MESSIAEN Turangalîla Symphony
Juanjo Mena’s 2012 Turangalîla-Symphonie for Hyperion felt like the dawning of a new Messiaenic age. As I said in my review, ‘Mena utterly redefines the terms under which past/current/future Turangalîlas need to be judged’.
And, like Mena, Hannu Lintu reclaims Turangalîla as a genuine slice of weird. Following Myung-Whun Chung’s perfumed 1990 DG performance (inexplicably authorised by Messiaen HQ) and Kent Nagano’s overly corporate 2000 Berlin Philharmonic version, Mena and Lintu relish the munificent mess and leave Messiaen’s internal contradictions hanging. In Lintu’s fifth movement, ‘Joie du sang des étoiles’, kinky, growling trumpets remind us that Boulez once dismissed the symphony as ‘bordello music’ (as if that’s necessarily a bad thing); but the final statement of Messiaen’s love theme, heard as a chorale that swells towards a climax in the last movement, is beautifully contoured here and makes you tingle where it counts – a sincere representation of human love.
Too many Turangalîlas fail to accommodate the work’s true sonic spectrum on record and I admired the immediacy of Mena’s recording. Lintu and recording producer Laura Heikinheimo opt for a more lifelike sound environment, meaning the low end of Valérie Hartmann-Claverie’s ondes martenot doesn’t chop through the orchestral bulk like Cynthia Millar’s with Mena, nor do you feel quite as saturated in sound. But Lintu’s awareness of internal balance is masterly. The machine-like tutti that follows the first-movement piano cadenza marches relentlessly forwards, strings crooning high above the extreme bump and grind of wind and percussion; in the genteel sixth movement Lintu makes Messiaen’s competing layers dance sensually around each other.
Following the tumultuous opening movements, Mena manages to reset time during the sixth movement (which clocks in at 12'41" against Lintu’s 9'52"). Lintu kicks off the opening movement at a stampeding pace and generally favours bright-side tempi throughout. When Messiaen pulls his various strands together in the eighth movement, Mena persuades you that contrasting time cycles are colliding; Lintu prefers to lock the music into the continuous present. Mena’s pianist, Steven Osborne, was built to play this music; Angela Hewitt is more strait-laced and polite – here Lintu is the dominant personality.