With all the fuss this year about Olivier Messiaen's centennial, it's easy to forget that Messiaen was the scion of a great tradition, rooted in the liturgical music of Paris. These composers were primarily known as organists, responsible for providing weekly music on Sundays.
On Thursday, St. Patrick's Cathedral presented a concert of music for organ and choir by three of the greatest French organist-composers from nthe 20th Century. Louis Vierne (1870-1937) was the organist at Notre Dame Cathedral for 37 years, literally keeling over at the console during a recital. Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) was organist at St. Sulpice - home of what is widely regarded as the greatest organ in the world - for 64 years. Widor was succeeded by Marcel Dupré (1885-1971), who remained at St. Sulpice for a mere 37 years.
The French-Gothic interior of St. Patrick's provided an ideal setting for this music. The Cathedral Choir, a mix of amateur and professional singers, was led by St. Patrick's director of music, Jennifer Pascual. Principal Organist Donald Dumler played the gallery organ; he was joined by John Miller at the chancel organ on works by Vierne and Widor.
Unfortunately, the performance fell far short of the lofty standard set by the city's Episcopal institutions, whether at St. Thomas up the block or the Trinity Choir downtown. Which goes to show that the Catholic church - at least in this country - is still reeling from the musical reforms of Vatican II, reforms the current Pope has publicly lamented.
Messiaen, who was the organist at La Trinité for 61 years, will get his due at New York's Catholic catherdral on May 29, when Gail Archer concludes her cycle of his major organ works with Livre du Saint Sacrament. Unfortunately, I won't be there, but only because I'll be hearing the very same work performed at La Trinité. I know, poor moi. (More pics after the jump.)