Messiaen Turangalila Symphony

A Turangalila with all the expressive power the score needs, and its equally well-played coupling provides an opportunity to enjoy less frequently heard Messiaen

Author: 
Arnold Whittall

Messiaen Turangalila Symphony

  • Turangalîla Symphony
  • (L') Ascension

No other 20th-century composition – nothing by Strauss or Scriabin, nothing by Hollywood’s finest – outdoes the sublime earthiness of the Turangalila Symphony. It is so unselfconsciously over-the-top as to be in an expressive category of its own: even The Rite of Spring seems austere beside it. The trick in performance is for 100 or so musicians to sustain the illusion of transcendent spontaneity for 80 minutes, and with more than 70 CDs under their belt for Naxos alone, you might expect a touch of the perfunctory from the Polish National RSO.
Not a bit of it. With the indefatigable Antoni Wit in charge, the only places where this performance threatens to become routine are in the sixth movement, when more melting woodwind playing can be imagined. I for one am willing to sacrifice the last degree of tonal and textural refinement for the strong contrasts and surging intensity offered here, and the sound is typically bold and forwardly balanced. Despite the generalised brightness which seems to be a Naxos trademark these days (so that the various strands of the texture are not ideally defined in very loud passages, and the solo piano grows clangorous here and there), the spirit of the music survives and prospers. The soloists (both new to the catalogue) are excellent, and if this particular ondes martenot is less sweetly vibrant than you have come to expect, so much the better: it still supplies the music with its special ecstatic radiance at crucial moments.
I wouldn’t claim that Wit’s Turangalila displaces Andre Previn’s long-established and greatly admired version – its only rival in lower price categories. Nevertheless, Wit’s coupling – an imposing account of Messiaen’s early yet already characteristic L’ascension – is even more welcome than Previn’s pair of Poulenc concertos, and devotees of Naxos’s ongoing forays into 20th-century masterworks certainly shouldn’t hesitate.'

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