Sinfonia concertante in E flat for Violin, Viola and Orchestra, K364
Éclairs sur l’Au-delà…
Veronika Eberle (violin) & Antoine Tamestit (viola)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers
Reviewed: 19 March, 2014
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
On paper, the conjunction of Mozart and Messiaen may look strange. Certainly their musical techniques are poles apart, but Messiaen recognised and admired the sublime ease of Mozart’s compositional style, redolent of a divine grace and simplicity which other composers’ attempts to reach have seemed a much more contrived, human striving by comparison.
Accordingly, this performance of the violin-and viola Sinfonia concertante (1779) remained poised – even relaxed, when one considers that the finale is marked Presto: Thierry Fischer (replacing Sylvain Cambreling) did not see the need to make it a manic rush. More than is often the case, it was the viola which stood out more prominently than the violin, Veronika Eberle seeming to stand back tonally from Antoine Tamestit’s more mellow and richly expressive playing. For instance, Eberle’s objective neutrality in the slow movement contrasted with Tamestit’s soulful cantilenas. This is not to imply, however, that there was otherwise any discrepancy between their deliveries as their parts ran in delightful parallel, particularly in the cadenzas of the first two movements.
Éclairs sur l’Au-delà… (1988-1991) is Olivier Messiaen’s last completed work, a summation of his life’s work. Like his other huge-orchestra cycles it musters an eclectic array of elements (including no fewer than 128 performers) to describe and represent the experience of his Catholic faith as lived in the created world, as well as going further to cast a musical illumination upon what might lie beyond. Messiaen consciously saw the work in cosmic terms – in the depiction of nebulae in the music and graphically as the frontispiece to the printed score, with images of galaxies. This performance of a work delving into realms beyond time seemed a rather fortuitous response to the discovery, just two days previously, of light and gravitational waves emanating from the moments immediately after the Big Bang at the other end of time’s spectrum.
In many ways Fischer’s interpretation was rooted in the worldly, whilst also stretching upwards to the supernatural. If the Mozart was poised in stability, this was poised in tension between two worlds. Hence, although the opening chordal progressions of ‘Apparition of Christ in Glory’ (recalling those of L’Ascension over half-a-century earlier) were heavy and earth-laden, the BBC Symphony Orchestra also made them momentous. The extended birdsong transcriptions in the second and ninth movements were very much of this world with their vibrant fluttering, whilst the lyrebird of the third was feisty and flirtatious in the incisive, colourful flashes Fischer whipped up from the orchestra.
The strings’ Turangalîla-like melody in ‘The Constellation of Sagittarius’ seemed a little stiff, and could perhaps have been made more sensuous to point up the contrast between the more earthbound first half of the work and the more celestial second. Nevertheless, the deliberately pallid yearning of the sonorities in ‘Abide in Love…’ at the end of the first half – a sheen of sound rather than a profuse wash – left adequate scope for the strings’ fuller tone in the final ‘Christ, Light of Paradise’ as the fulfilment of that longing. The trilling triangle in this final movement might have been just a tad more shimmering rather than percussive, but it still clearly expressed the glistening celestial light and the glory of the transfigured soul (which looks back to Messiaen’s Les Corps Glorieux).
This outcome had been prepared by the sonorous foreboding of trombones in ‘The Seven Angels with the Seven Trumpets’ (in turn harking back to Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum) and by the orchestra’s palpable vitality in ‘The Way of the Invisible’ as it sought to rise from earth’s gravity. The accretion of ‘The Stars and the Glory’ from its shrieks and piercing cadences to the majestic chorale served as an intermediary climax – ordered in time – before the endless circularity of the final movement attained Lohengrin-like eternity in a beatific A major. Throughout this long spiritual journey, Fischer kept sight of its ineffable goal without effacing any of the distinctive steps.