"If these should hold their peace," Christ once said of his more vociferous worshippers, "the stones would immediately cry out." What stones crying out would sound like we can only guess; what a pipe organ pressed into such service would sound like, thanks to Messiaen, we know. The complete title of this 1939 composition is Les Corps Glorieux: Sept visions bréves de la vie des ressuscités (or "The Bodies in Glory: Seven brief visions of the life of the resurrected"). Seldom has eternal life been given such voice.
For 19 years New York City's Church of St. Ignatius Loyola has hosted the "Sacred Music in a Sacred Space" concert series, and it was at one such 2008 concert that this recording was made. The church's 44-voice choir performs Ginastera's The Lamentations of Jeremiah (1946) in Latin and Schnittke's Concerto for Choir (1985), based on writings by the 10th-century Armenian mystic Gregory of Narek, in Russian, so the booklet contains English translations. The ferocious beauty of the performances, however, makes the translations unnecessary.
Given the tendency of artists to see significance in numerological coincidence, one can't help wondering whether the Austrian pianist Till Fellner appended the seven-part Französische Suite V to the Inventionen Und Sinfonien to bring this album's number of individual selections to 37, his age at the time of its release. Of this much one can be certain: If Fellner can perform the program this arrestingly now, what he'll make of it in another decade or two is as difficult to imagine as it is not to hope for.
Swann is probably best known to the evangelical community as the organist at the Crystal Cathedral from 1982 to 1998. These 2008 recordings are, according to Swann's liner notes, intended "to showcase the wide and colorful tonal spectrum of this superb new [C.B. Fisk] organ," and they do. They also showcase Swann's sensitivity to the common man. Midway through the heavy-hitter program (Bach, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Franck) comes "Improvisations on 'Londonderry Air'"-or "Danny Boy" to the pub crowd.
Like every other album bearing the ECM New Series imprint, Till Fellner's recording of Bach's Inventionen (BWV 772-786), Sinfonien (BWV 787-801), and Französische Suite V in G-Dur (BWV 816) comes with extensive and eloquent liner notes, in this case by the critic and University of Salzburg musicology professor Jürg Stenzl.
In a sense, of course, even the best liner notes are superfluous; if a performance cannot stand on its own, no amount of verbal propping up will keep it upright for long. To listeners, however, whose genius lags behind that of the composer and the performer, explication can be most useful, especially when the explicator is willing to defer to another-as Stenzl does to the composer Helmut Lachenmann-in the service of helping the listener along. Listening properly to Bach, writes Lachenmann, "involves focusing the mind, and thus exertion. But to exert oneself as a means of penetrating reality . . . is to experience a moment of happiness."