The Rest is Noise – Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony – Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra/Thierry Fischer

Turangalîla Symphony

Stefan Stroissnig (piano) & Cynthia Millar (ondes Martenot)

Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra
Thierry Fischer

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 23 May, 2013
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Thierry Fischer. Photograph: Scott JarvieOlivier Messiaen (1908-92) completed Turangalîla towards the end of 1948 following more than two years’ work on it. It was first heard on 2 December 1949, the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein (a rehearsal recording survives and is issued on Music & Arts). For all its extravagance and length, Turangalîla is a regular in the concert hall and needs nothing more than to be played; like it or not, it speaks for itself – with power, iridescence and beauty.

The Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra under Thierry Fischer did a great job with this joyous ten-movement symphony celebrating time (that passes) and love. Overall, these young professional musicians –for that was the standard attained – gave this music with exhilarating life-force and painstaking preparation, Fischer ensuring a wealth of characterisation and dynamics to sustain 75 vital, sweet and fragrant minutes. Just occasionally one might have thought the brass as too loud, but the playing was impeccable, and certainly the ondes Martenot (keyboard, electronics and speakers) invented by Maurice of that name could be considered overly-dominant sporadically in its growls and squeaks, but Cynthia Millar is a veteran of the role, well over one-hundred performances now, and I have heard her more discreet than this. It’s a small point, however, for if this quirky, witty, volcanic and sensuous score is hardly everyday listening, it stands the test of time (no pun) extremely well.

Stefan Stroissnig, who has studied at the RCM, was impressively stylish and sympathetic, his virtuosity illuminating the elaborate piano part. Curiously, though, for all that the performers traced the grand design of Turangalîla and the interplay within it with total assurance, there seemed less variety than on previous occasions. Fischer asked the flute and clarinet soloists to stand during ‘Jardin du sommeil d’amour’, which detracted, for the ear can easily sort out what the sounds are; even so, this movement (the sixth) was remarkably hypnotic and given so raptly that the mechanics of playing instruments seemed not to exist. By contrast, the pulsation of the finale was especially well managed, the closing crescendo and long-held fortissimo clinching a performance that the RCM can be justly proud.

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