|Site review by Geohominid June 12, 2012
Performance: Sonics (S/MC): /
|The organ featured significantly in Rued Langgaard's early career as a performer and composer. He showed his talents as early as age 11 in his improvisations on the instrument in 1905, and later took the only professional position of his life as organist at Ribe (South Jutland) in 1940.
Disappointed with the hostile reception of his music by the Danish musical establishment, he did little or no significant composing in the early 1930s while he applied for many positions as a church organist, but never became successful. However, in 1935 he began work on a huge project; an intellectual, Religious and compositional epic work for organ called 'Messis', Latin for "The Time of Harvest". With a playing time of nearly 2 hours, and spread over three evenings, it remains one of the largest and most ambitious works in the organ repertoire, requiring a substantial measure of stamina from both performers and listeners, yet being seminal in the composer's whole oeuvre.
Flemming Dreisig is the organist of Copenhagen Cathedral, and thus is enrolled in the "royal succession" of Danish organists. He has been a pioneer in performing Langgaard's organ works, and made the first recording of Messis on the Ronna organ for Danacord in 1997-8. His new performance can be regarded as authoritative. Given the huge resources of the five-manual 1995 Marcussen organ of Copenhagen Cathedral and DaCapo's technically excellent multichannel recording on SA-CD, this 2-disc set is another valuable item in the current reinstatement of Langgaard's music.
Typically for Langgard, the gestation of Messis was not simple. Each of the three Evenings comprises several movements, sometimes obscurely titled or represented by one or more biblical quotes. The main period of composition was 1935-7, although two of the movements in the first Evening go back to 1932-4. Later revisions were carried out in 1950-1952 in connection to his performances in Ribe Cathedral, and in 1947 he produced a separate, new version of Part 3 of the trilogy which is based on the story of Dives and Lazarus. This was entitled 'In Ténebras Exteriores" (Into outer darkness) and is placed first on this disc. In 1947 he also added a Postlude to Messis, which aptly follows the last Evening of Messis on the second SA-CD.
What does the music sound like? Langgaard intended to convey harvest-time as an analogue of the end of the world and the Second Coming, which he thought would soon occur. Liszt's tone poems, Schumann and Delius are antecedents, as are some of the dissonant modernisms of the 1920s. As eclectic as ever, Langgaard borrows some materials; the chorale "Sleepers, Wake!" (representing his love of Bach); the Grail Bell motif from Wagner's Parsifal appears in several movements; some banal popular tunes and a theme written by his father. At the end of Part 1, Langgaard requires a small choir to sing another brief chorale. In the last few bars of the Postlude, the notes GADE roar out from the pedal ranks, celebrating the famous Danish composer to whom Langgaard owed much.
On paper, the combination of biblical quotes, the purely conceptual nature of some texts and the rapidly changing character and atmosphere of each movement do not bode well for structural clarity in a potentially sprawling format, yet the work hangs surprisingly well together, partly due to the frequent use of motives like the Grail Bell, and also to the devoted and inspired playing by Dreisig. His imaginative use of the organ's many colours and effects, like vox humana with tremolo, chimes and the Gemshorn (goat stop) make for a vivid and unpredictable listening experience which is pure Langgaard. The pedal department of his organ deploys 32' bourdons and tubas which provide a ground-shaking effect in 5.1 multichannel systems and are frequently used. Dreisig's cajoling, beautiful paced Romantic expositions can unexpectedly be ripped apart or blown away by truly volcanic, cruelly dissonant, full organ chordal blasts which make the listener run behind the settee for cover. Above all, Dreisig portrays Langgaard's deep sincerity, the primal glue which holds this monster of an organ piece together, making it glow inwardly.
Technically, the capture of the Marcussen organ is about the best one could arrange in the large cathedral. The organ sits at the back of the nave and is very enclosed, so that the sound has to come through the casing and a cut-out arch above. So there is little sense of the disposition of ranks either laterally or in the organ's depth (except when the echo department is used). I found that in order to really give the organ its full majestic presence, I needed to wind up the volume control a long way above normal, then the detail was less veiled and the huge sound it can make was, well, frightening, just as Langgaard expected. Bendt Viinholt Nielsen's essay on the music and its context is excellent, and in English and Danish. Good photographs and a full organ specification are included.
There is no doubt that although Messis might be off-putting on account of its length and complexity, it really does grow on you. A fearsome challenge to organists, it is certainly an experience which organ-lovers should have, although I would not advise newcomers to Langgaard's music to start with Messis, its seminal status notwithstanding. But clear some space in your diary and schedule a three night organ marathon at home; you could not have a better organ and organist to convert you.
Copyright © 2012 John Miller and SA-CD.net