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Christopher Dingle
BBC Music Magazine, March 2011

That Paul Jacobs has the requisite stamina is certainly not in doubt, for he has made a speciality of performing the entirety of Messiaen’s organ output in single, nine-hour sittings. © 2018 BBC Music Magazine Read complete review

Donald E Metz
American Record Guide, March 2011

Listeners can rather easily grasp the dramatic qualities in this work, along with chant melodies, bird songs, and programmatic inclusions. This is music to appeal especially to organists or people who find in Messiaen’s music a special religious connection.

Jacobs plays with the assurance and technical precision one would expect from a widely praised performer.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Jeremy Marchant
Fanfare, March 2011

This is the seventh, last, and longest of the cycles of organ meditations that Olivier Messiaen composed. Livre du Saint-Sacrament (Book of the Holy Sacrament) dates from 1984, when the composer was 76, and, far from being a recycling of past glories, is a fully considered summing-up of his musical styles on the instrument he loved moSt Messiaen takes as his subject the Eucharist and uses it as a vehicle to deliver a technically daunting set of devotions to his Christian truths. The 18 movements are divided into three groups, with the last seven devoted to the sacrament itself. The first four represent acts of adoration before the communion, and the next seven depict the “graces of Christ’s Mysteries” as the composer put it, that is, events in the Saviour’s life, culminating in a lengthy programmatic description of the revelation of the risen Christ to Mary Magdalene. The sound world is very much Messiaen’s own: snatches of plainchant jostle with birdsong, and thunderous sequences of dissonant chords yield at the last moment to consonant resolutions.

Paul Jacobs entirely rises to the demands of the work, both technically and interpretatively. He plays the organ of the Church of St Mary the Virgin, New York, which is clearly more than able to support him in the many pictorial representations the music calls on it to make. I pulled out Jennifer Bate’s recording for comparison, partly because it is also on a budget label (Regis), and partly because I had the privilege of hearing her premiere the work in Westminster Cathedral, London, in 1986 (she had been selected by the composer for this honor), and the CD carries his endorsement of the performance. One immediately notices that Jacobs takes 101 minutes while Bate needs nearly half an hour longer, at 129 minutes! Jacobs is not aberrantly fast; Gillian Weir’s acclaimed performance (now on Priory) is broadly the same duration as his, but I was naturally curious how this difference could be accounted for.

Livre du Saint-Sacrament starts with an extraordinary mediation on a text of St Thomas Aquinas that begins Adoro Te (I adore Thee, O hidden Divinity). With Jacobs, the thick cluster chords generate a compelling harmonic fog, but, turning to both Weir and Bate, I hear a stronger sense of the harmonic movement. Movement 3, Le Dieu caché (The Hidden God), is a characteristic juxtaposition of widely differing material: plainchant followed by an angular monody, then birdsong and a sweeter meditation. I feel that Jacobs rushes at least the first note group of the chant; Weir is only a tad slower, but it’s just enough. Bate is much slower and, I feel, adopts a more realistic tempo here. I labor this point only because it illustrates a characteristic of Jacobs’ performance—you could never accuse him of being too quick, but he courts it. In movement 4, Acte de foi (Act of Faith), another piece for tutti organ, Jacobs is clearer and his pedals are better that Bate’s.

There is a good deal of picture-painting in the Livre, and Jacobs characterizes this well, choosing appropriate stops in the sixth movement, La Manne et la Pain de Vie (Manna and the Bread of Life), to represent the desert. However, it is in the 10th movement, La Résurrection du Christ, that Bate really pulls away from Jacobs. This depiction of the resurrection of Jesus is one long fortissimo in huge chords. Jacobs is impressive, but Bate, taking 7 and a half minutes to his 4 and a half, is absolutely massive. She uses the extra time partly to set a slower tempo, but she also allows plenty of time for each clause of the music to die away in the reverberation, and she holds onto the last chord of each clause. She holds the final chord a full 32 seconds. I don’t know if this is in the score, but it is certainly in the spirit of the music.

Movement 16, Prière après la Communion (Prayer after Communion), is a classic, sweet mediation on the text “Thou art my perfume and my delight, my peace and my gentleness” (Saint Bonaventura), and Jacobs delivers it very well. Again, a little more reserve in the tempo would not have gone amiss, perhaps.

All in all, the above reads more dismissively than intended. Paul Jacobs’ performance is certainly worth investigating and worth acquiring, perhaps as a second or third version of this marvelous and accessible work. Naxos’s CD booklet notes aren’t really good enough (there’s no mention, for example, that each movement is prefaced by a quotation, still less an indication of what that quotation might be); most of the track names printed on the second CD incorrectly duplicate those on the first; and there’s a lot of ambient noise on the recording. But this is still a fine performance that deserves to be heard.

James Manheim, December 2010

The Livre du Saint-Sacrement of Olivier Messiaen was the composer’s last organ work, composed in the early ’80s and premiered at a Detroit, MI, meeting of the American Guild of Organists. Somewhat neglected, it deserves attention as a sort of summation of all the techniques this great original thinker of the 20th century created. The work is inspired by the Communion sacrament and is essentially a programmatic reflection on the sacrament itself and on episodes from the life of Christ, indicated in biblical or philosophical quotations in the score. The music makes use of the unusual scales (known as modes of limited transposition) of Messiaen’s later music, of his penchant for birdsong-like music, of his “communicable language” technique (whereby musical notes spell out words, in this case “resurrection”), of tone clusters, of quotations of chant, and generally of the composer’s familiarity with the capabilites of the organ. These details may reveal themselves to a greater or lesser degree, but the work’s scope, religious fervor, and sheer power will be evident to any listener. It’s a colorful work in the extreme, and its long passages in the organ’s lowest register will rattle anything in the vicinity that can be rattled. The sound engineering here is excellent; sample the antiphonal cluster effect in the 13th movement, “Les deux murailles d’eau” (The Two Walls of Water, track 13), and hear how the echoes in the space of New York’s Church of St Mary the Virgin almost seem to become part of the music. Credit goes to engineer Stephen Roessner, but most of all to American organist Paul Jacobs, a preeminent Messiaen specialist who does full justice to the music’s sheer enthusiasm and makes sure there’s never a dull moment. If you’ve heard Messiaen’s better-known works of the 1940s and 1950s and are in the mood for something both weighty and spectacular, give this double disc a try; it may blow your speakers but will definitely blow your mind. Notes are in French and English.

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Music Review, November 2010

Olivier Messiaen composed Livre du Saint-Sacrement in 1984 on a commission for the American Guild of Organists. It is his last work for solo organ, and it is the longest, running nearly two hours. Since Messiaen’s collected work in this medium is without a doubt at the pinnacle of 20th century classical milestones, it seems imperative that one experiences such a substantial final contribution to his oeuvre. I regret to say that I had not done so until now. With the recent Naxos (8.572436–37) 2-CD release of Paul Jacobs performing the work, I finally have gotten the change to linger in its spacious aural caverns. I am back on these pages to report in on what I have heard.

This is music both massive and delicate, alternatingly. Livre du Saint-Sacrement is both mystical and triumphant. Widor and especially Tournemire lurk somewhere on the side aisles. Messiaen had fully absorbed the coloristic pathways the two composers had staked out for the solo organ, and it seems that Messiaen’s position as the logical successor and innovator in their school is quite clearly shown in this last, great work. The musical language is Messiaen’s at its most original, but the great swells and contrasting meditative quietude found in the 18 movements come out of his great familiarity with his recent forebears.

That is to take nothing away from Messiaen’s boldly moving poeticism, only to recognize that he fits into a continuum. This is music of incredible power, played masterfully by Maestro Jacobs on the Organ of the Church of St Mary the Virgin in New York City. The sound is ravishing. This is not something you’ll be whistling on the way home from work. It’s abstract, mystical and expressive of Messiaen’s strong Catholic faith. It’s also some mind-blowing sound!

Bruce Hodges
The Juilliard Journal Online, November 2010

In 2007, Paul Jacobs, chairman of Juilliard’s organ department, performed the complete Messiaen Livre du Saint-Sacrement (1984) to wide acclaim, just in time for the centenary of the composer’s birth in 2008. Now Jacobs has created a thrilling document of his thoughts on the piece, recorded on the very same organ used in that concert, the magnificent Aeolian-Skinner Opus 891 in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, located near Times Square. (David Crean’s helpful liner notes include a complete list of all the stops on the instrument.) The myriad colors available to Jacobs—some as garish as the church’s neighborhood, others as delicate as a butterfly wing—will probably astonish those new to the piece, and have been searingly captured in the church by engineer Stephen Roessner, a former staff member in Juilliard’s Recording Department.

Messiaen’s final organ work was completed as a commission for the 1986 meeting in Detroit of the American Guild of Organists. The 18 movements are based on the Catholic Communion ceremony, divided into three groups: four movements before the ceremony, seven that describe Christ’s life, and seven that refer more directly to the ceremony itself. This is intense fare, uncompromising in its starkness, filled with passages ranging from eerily simple, plaintive chorales, to massive chords whose vibrations could seemingly pulverize the building into dust. The contrasts are everywhere: a quiet meditation like Institution de L’Eucharistie (“Institution of the Eucharist”) is followed by the thundering weight of Les ténèbres (“The Darkness”). Over a span of roughly 100 minutes, Jacobs is astonishing in his control of timbre, phrasing, and dynamic range.

…with this spectacular Messiaen recording, Jacobs has created what will surely become a reference version for many.

Dominy Clements
MusicWeb International, November 2010

This is one of those rare pieces, an organ work which has almost literally everything. It’s one of my favourites, and Jennifer Bate’s premiere recording, originally on Unicorn-Kanchana and now part of the complete set on Regis, is pretty much inscribed onto my aural DNA. There are numerous noble recordings of this great work around, but it is to Bate’s I always return, so that is my principal reference.

Paul Jacobs is clearly a highly skilled organist…. The later French master Olivier Messiaen is very well served by this Naxos recording, and if it’s only the Livre du Saint-Sacrement you are looking for then this bargain release can hold its own amongst the best.

Jacobs’ timing over the entirety of the piece is a good deal shorter than Bate’s, but the vast canvas on which this work is played out can easily cope with having 30 minutes or so shaved from its entirety and still sound unhurried. In this respect, Jacobs is closer to Olivier Latry on his DG set. Bate creates an atmosphere of almost absolute timelessness at crucial moments however: lingering over sustained movements, and giving us the kind of glimpses into eternity which Messiaen must have had in mind while coaching her on interpretation. Jacobs doesn’t sound ‘wrong’ however, and his lyrical flow in monadic passages such as Le Dieu caché are elegantly shaped and never superficial. The organ sound of the Church of St Mary the Virgin is convincingly colourful and pungent, if not quite as nasally atmospheric as Messiaen’s own instrument at Sainte-Trinité.

In the end, it is atmosphere which the difference between these recordings. Both have that sense of awe and grandeur, that affinity with the sheer hugeness of creation. Jacobs’ has a good deal less rumble to that of the Paris recording, but both churches have the right kind of magnificent acoustic needed for such music to inhabit and create its own worlds of sound. I thought I was going to have to qualify my bias in favour of Bate, but while there are certain effects which just seems to ‘fit’ better in the colours of the Sainte-Trinité organ I can’t honestly say the St Mary organ is in any way inferior. Take the movement Les réssuscités et la lumière de vie. The impact of the opening is more impressive with the New York instrument, and the bass depths deeper. The pungency of the Paris organ rings true, but I have to admit all of the terrifying effects sound every bit as effective on the Naxos recording. A central movement, La Réssurection du Christ has that marvellous growl from the Sainte-Trinité organ which also makes the opening Adoro te so special, but the harmonies are better defined in St Mary the Virgin, so that the impact of those trademark Messiaen resolutions are deeply effective. No, the differences in atmosphere which count are those between the two players, and even there one can be pushed to favour one above the other. Where Bate wins for me is where we are brought back to those abyss-like infinities. Even where the timings are similar with a movement such as La Transsubstantiation it is the contrast in voices in the abstract lines of the opening passage and its reiteration where I prefer the Sainte-Trinité organ. The New York sound is better fed and rounder by comparison, a bit too comfortable and easy—perfectly fine in isolation, but listen to Messiaen’s own instrument and you will experience more why he was led to explore such effects. Another movement to which one gravitates is the gorgeous Prière après la communion, which has an almost cheesy new-age quality which only Messiaen can make sound really contemplative and spiritual. It is Bate who achieves these effects best, adding a good minute over Jacobs’ timing, allowing true quiet to be generated and true weight to be given to those simple but breathtaking melodic gestures and chord progressions. Even given some slightly dodgy intonation at Sainte-Trinité, Bate and Jacobs are equally affirmative in the final Offrandre et Alléluia, the Naxos recording more spectacular in terms of bass oomph and clarity, the Paris sounds having their own urgency and distinctive ringing treble ‘ping’ which lifts the entire texture.

Having been pre-programmed by years living with Jennifer Bate’s premiere recording of this magnificent work I wasn’t expecting to be that impressed by this Naxos release, but I have to admit my preconceptions have been entirely swept away. Yes, I still hold my high regard for the thrill-factor and sheer sense of spiritual content in Bate’s recording, and I do ultimately favour the authentic Sainte-Trinité organ and ‘presence of the composer’ sound over the richer sonorities of St Mary the Virgin, but neither do I want this to take away from Paul Jacobs’ achievement in this new recording. If trouser-flapping bass is what you look for with organ recordings then the Naxos disc will satisfy more, though not with quite the immediacy and startlingly spectacular clarity of Olivier Latry at the organ of Notre-Dame in Paris on DG. Latry is marvellously impressive, but ultimately like a teenage bride for the middle-aged man—plenty of wow factor in the first flush, but what is there left to talk about when things have cooled off? If I have one criticism of this Naxos release, then it’s only the playing time. A coupling with a handful of Messiaen’s shorter organ works to go with it would have been nice as is the case with the Regis double CD, but for the money who’s complaining? This will do very well, and thanks and praise to all concerned.

Joshua Meggitt
Cyclic Defrost, October 2010

With eighteen movements and a running time approaching three hours, Messiaen’s final organ work Livre du Saint-Sacrement (The Book of the Blessed Sacrament), a thematic cycle based on the sacrament of Communion, isn’t an easy listen. However, viewed alongside extended contemporary synth workouts by the likes of Oneohtrix Point Never and Emeralds it can be seen as something of a precursor, particularly in view of the pseudo new-age mysticism that informs the work of those artists. In addition, Messiaen’s strong religious conviction, albeit to the established orthodoxy of the Catholic faith, expressed itself in distinctly unorthodox ways and resulted in music of comparable strangeness: an obsession with birdsong, an openness to avant-garde and experimental techniques, and a fondness for cataclysmic, cosmic climaxes.

All of these aspects feature in Livre du Saint-Sacrament. The work itself grew out of improvisations dating back to 1980, completed following a commission for the 1986 convention of the American Guild of Organists held in Detroit. Movements are typically dense with activity and stylistic shifts, veering from the slow-moving drone of ‘Adoro te’, singing with overtones, to the abrupt shifts and constant change of ‘La manne et le Pain de Vie’, following the trails of soaring birdsong. ‘La joie de la grace’ in the final section is a violent eruption of tonal colour, while the final ‘La Joie’ evokes the purity of earlier organ music.

Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News, October 2010

There have been two utterly formidable musicians named Paul Jacobs in the last half century of American music of the concert hall. One was the cerebral pianist who was among those rarities who wrote about music every bit as well as he played and who died of AIDS-related causes in 1983. The other is the altogether staggering organist who, we’re told, has—get this now—performed the complete organ works of Olivier Messiaen in nine-hour marathons in eight American cities. And if somehow that isn’t enough, at the age of 23, he marked the 250th anniversary of the death of Bach with an 18-hour marathon of Bach’s complete organ music. Granted, such things are stunts more gymnastic than musical, but they certainly indicate that Messiaen’s last and longest organ work isn’t the slightest bit daunting for him. The entire work clocks in at 101 minutes and it is typical top-shelf Messiaen, full of birdsong, chant and the ecstasies of a composer and performer who found, in the organ, a perfect instrument for one performer to be in total control of an extravagant, God-haunted sonic universe.

John Terauds
Toronto Star, September 2010

American organist Paul Jacobs is such a phenomenal talent, not only technically but in how he manages to coax every conceivable colour out of any instrument he confronts. The man who became head of the organ faculty at the Juilliard School at the age of 27 (in 2004) has made a specialty of the music of Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992). Here, in a two-CD set, he presents the pinnacle of Messiaen’s contribution to the organ repertoire, the Book of the Holy Sacrament, 18 meditations he completed in 1984 that transcend time, space, sound and conventional notions of musical narrative. As titular organist at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Paris, Messiaen’s output is directly tied to the Roman Catholic Mass as well has his own deep spirituality. Jacobs recorded this music in the incense-filled, neo-Gothic time capsule that is the Church of St Mary-the-Virgin near Times Square in Manhattan, with its generous reverberation and fabulously massive Aeolian Skinner organ. Divorced from the atmosphere and environment that this music was written for, these tonally daring meditations and transports come across as dense and difficult. With eyes closed and mind cleared of everyday cares, it is music that can insinuate itself into the deepest recesses of the soul.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2010

Olivier Messiaen was already seventy-six when he completed his most extensive and final work for organ, Livre du Saint-Sacrement. It had been in his mind for some time to write a series of short etudes, the outcome being eighteen movements based on the sacrament of Communion. As he was to use material from some of his recorded improvisations, it was not preconceived as being for religious purposes. Overall it falls into three sections: Adoration before Communion; The life of Christ and the Sacrament. For the performer it is a massive undertaking that lasts over a hundred minutes, and though it is both physically and mentally taxing, though there is no shortage of recorded versions. Jennifer Bate put down a landmark account back in the 1980’s, and here we have the American organist, Paul Jacobs, one of today’s acknowledged Messiaen exponents who has performed the composer’s complete works in nine hour marathons. His view of Livre is one of strong contrasts, his instrument thundering through some enormous climatic moments, or has us straining our ears to catch the passages of hushed reverence. The great Messiaen recordings have tended to come from traditional French organs in major French cathedrals, though Messiaen, to my ears, relies less on that factor than most of his compatriots. Here we have an Aeolian Skinner installed in St Mary the Virgin in New York City, the instrument of impressive credentials and of the size and scope to suite the work’s requirements. Then, of course, we have the venue itself, and this one does have a sizeable reverberation, some climatic points still being savoured after a quieter passage starts. Also audible are some organ’s mechanics which your equipment may pick up. There are question marks I can place on all the available recorded versions, and here I warm to the athleticism of Jacobs, and that tingle of excitement he can generate. The engineers have allowed their microphones to stand back so that we can feel the sheer impact generated. It can certainly make speakers dance.

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