Friday, 29 May 2015

Turangalila, Philharmonia, RFH

I first heard Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie on a BBC Radio 3 broadcast in, oh, 1992? If I thought it was loud and exotic then, little has changed. Well, maybe the 'loud' bit. Last night the Philharmonia played it with a gleeful, punchy ensemble (but were never raucous). It was fun - and enlightening - to watch as well as hear. The double basses (10 of them) have a frightening run at one point, which, like much of the piece is all about texture rather than melody.  The celesta is featured. I don't know the score, so having two of them might be required or it might be an indulgence. It was fab, whatever the intention. And their glitter was cut, just, with a marimba behind them. I mean, all the textures had some sort of timbral modification: the Ondes Martenot and the low strings; the clarinet, er, versus the Ondes Martenot (the latter deploying a fun, buzzy quality at this point). One exception might have been the blitzkrieg of the Philharmonia's trumpets, owning the trump prefix (it is now) of their instruments. But then, for all their panache and, yup, brassiness this was all of a part with the strange, homogenised aesthetic of the performance, a largely opaque sound that admitted wonder but not rumination, tenderness though not necessarily warmth. Turangalila doesn't strike me as a soul-searching work but a forward-fixed spasm of optimism. Even Pierre-Laurent Aimard played with antic gesture, the music of totems. Esa Pekka Salonen is the most secure of conductors and his unequivocal beat electrified orchestra and audience alike. There has rarely been a more exhilarating and, frankly terrifying entreaty to crescendo for either to have watched. There was some Debussy in the first half played with some style and finesse but I remember little more of it after this eighty-minute shaman-stomp.

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