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Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Turangalīla Symphony (1947-49)
Yvonne Loriod (piano)
Jeanne Loriod (ondes martenot)
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa
rec. Dec 1967. ADD
BMG RCA RED SEAL 82876 59418 2 [76.59]

The Turangalīla Symphony was commissioned by none other than Serge Koussevitsky in 1945. It was given its world premiere in Boston in 1949.

This version was the earliest international recording. There had previously been a de luxe French Véga LP set but that did not travel far. As it is, the Ozawa has hardly been out of the catalogue over the years ... and no wonder. Such is its profile it needs little comment from me. In any event it has been reviewed here comparatively recently under another banner as part of a two CD set (French BMG Artistes Repertoires) including symphonies by Roussel. While it labours under the burden of 1960s analogue sound this is not a comment on the presence of hiss or on any intrinsic weakness in the sound although it has acquired a hint of deckle edge over the years. Hiss has been well suppressed. Recently I have been listening to Munch’s Boston Debussy from 1963-65. Hiss is far more apparent on that disc than it is here.

The symphony’s filmic, even psychedelic, excesses are there to be gloried in rather than decried. Part of these excesses is accounted for by the feral ‘loopiness’ of the ondes martenot and the braying brass. This is a work that defines ‘over the top’. Try the Hollywood-style luxury in Chant d'Amour 2 (tr. 4 at 2.28). You have to surrender yourself to this music if you are to get anything from it at all. The score is a luxury item crying out for every advance in recording quality. There are nice subtle spatial effects in the quiet dialogue of woodwind at the start of tr.9. Less subtly sultry but just as impressive are the primitivist rhythmic interest rapped out in the piano line.

Ozawa directs this work without hesitation. This is a confident reading by a conductor prepared to make unequivocal statements. Of course the authoritative presence of Yvonne and Jeanne Loriod also makes a difference and adds to the standing of this classic of recorded sound.

Perhaps the passing decades have taken some toll on the tone which, while respectable enough, would benefit from greater succulence instead of the mildly synthetic sense you transiently get when listening to parts of this recording. This is not unduly disturbing until the listener comes to the last few pages of the finale (tr. 10) where there is a real rawness and some distortion. Nothing disastrous but it is a momentary shame to leave this performance with such an aural blemish.

Rob Barnett

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