Messiaen Turangalila Symphony, etc
There are three major respects in which Simon Rattle's view of Turangalila differs from Esa-Pekka Salonen's on CBS. The first concerns the role of the ondes martenot: is it truly a solo instrument, and if so does it have as much importance as the sold piano? Salonen's answer to both questions is 'yes', Rattle's is more equivocal. It is true, of course, that Messiaen often uses the ondes to reinforce and to add cutting edge to the violin line, but there are many moments where the instrument has an independent role, and others where it is clearly intended to dominate the entire orchestra. At the beginning of the third movement it is heard in duet with the clarinet; in Salonen's reading it is an equal partner (and sounds rather like a clarinet), in Rattle's a poetic and rather distant echo. And in the finale, at the culminating appearance of the
The second point of contrast is in the central slow movement of the work, ''Jardin du sommeil d'amour'', and here I cannot make up my mind which I prefer. Salonen sees the garden in which love lies sleeping as brightly sunlit and thronged with melodious but certainly not muted birds. Rattle adopts a slower pace (and slows down still further towards the end) and a gentler, softer, almost veiled sound; a garden from which the sun has not yet lifted the morning haze, perhaps (and the ondes, again, do not penetrate the mist too far). Both performances are very beautiful; I suspect that both approaches may be equally valid.
A more tentative matter, but one which I find crucial, is the route taken by the final three movements. Salonen's reading seems to me to imply quite strongly that movement No. 8 (''Developpement de l'amour'') is a crisis point ending with an almost terrifying descent into blackness, from which the austerely solemn rituals of ''Turangalila III'' rescue the music, salvation being ecstatically celebrated in the finale. Rattle finds rather less darkness and fewer disruptive conjunctions of tempo in ''Developpement de l'amour'' and there is more of Ravelian chinoiserie than solemnity to his ''Turangalila III'', partly because his muted solo strings and the rhythmic percussion that they shadow are both dominated by the piano and the gamelan group. To my ears the finale therefore sounds less culminatory (Salonen implicitly confirms his view that ''Turangalila III'', is an upbeat to it by allowing only the barest pause between them; the gap in Rattle's reading is achingly wide). But Rattle's is a reading of great distinction, it is brilliantly played, and its dynamics are sometimes more carefully judged than Salonen's (Rattle's ''Joie du sang des etoles'' is a notch less excitingly headlong than his, but less unremittingly loud). If you do not share my feelings about the ondes martenot and the dramatic sequence of the concluding movements, you may even prefer Rattle's account; honours are pretty equally divided between them otherwise, between the two admirable pianist and between the recordings (a touch more depth, perspective and detail to Salonen's CBS, perhaps, but I have been listening to his account on CD; I look forward to the CD version of the Rattle/EMI very much indeed).
Salonen's reading is coupled with first-rate performances of Lutoslawski's Third Symphony and his Les espaces du sommeil. The account of the Quatuor pour la fin du temps chosen as fill-up for Rattle's Turangalila is not the best ever recorded (it has an astonishingly slow performance of the movement with cello solo which seems to go on for hours) but it is a fairly respectable one, with a very resourceful clarinettist and a nicely tender account of the finale from Gawriloff. I slightly prefer it to the DG performance with Barenboim (both his string players are altogether too fond of a wide vibrato) but would not choose either if the Quatuor were my main concern.'