Messiaen's music can dance just as much as J S Bach's, given the chance. It was certainly given that chance in Alexander Binns' performance of La Nativité du Seigneur, a set of nine meditations for organ on aspects of the Christmas story - Derby Cathedral, Derby. UK, 5 January 2020. In full command of the music's shifting relationship with time, his performance embraced its full expressive and dynamic range, and placed Messiaen's variegated colours with elegance and precision.
'La Vierge et l'Enfant' was a study in both expressive tenderness and lucid textures with, in the central section, a subtle anticipation of the shepherds' dance in 'Les Bergers'. The dabs of light that mark the opening section of 'Les Bergers' itself sounded both measured and spontaneous, while Binns teased out the hints of a baroque pastoral sicilienne in the second half. 'Desseins éternels' was allowed to unfold in calm, unhurried, spaciousness, contrasting with the joyful cascade that opened 'Le Verbe'. Against this the pedal theme appeared stark as a cliff-face. The song-like second half floated serenely. 'Les enfants de Dieu' built to a joyful tumult in the middle.
'Les anges', for manuals only, is perhaps the most endearing of the nine movements. Here it was a playful, bright, sparkling scherzo, allowed to fade delightfully at the end. The tough, angular 'Jésus accepte la souffrance', on the other hand, was notable for the menacing snarl Binns found in the instrument's pedal reed department. Like 'Les Bergers', 'Les mages' is studded with points of light, here delicately touched in, underpinned by a suggestion of a steady footfall, with the final chord glowing brightly.
A gutsy reading of the concluding 'Dieu parmi nous' lacked nothing in either exuberance or inwardness. The toccata figuration pealed for joy, and Binns positively revelled in the final bars, with their steady, deliberate cadence figure.
Copyright © 14 January 2020