, Messiaen’s sprawling mystico-spiritual odyssey, has been well served on record. At the top of the tree must be André Previn’s classic LSO account for EMI, by turns dreamily exotic and – thanks to the ondes
– unashamedly erotic. More recently, Yan Pascal Tortelier’s Chandos version – review
– may be less flamboyant but it has an inner strength and structural integrity that’s very impressive indeed. It’s a work that seldom fails to entrance or entertain, so when I saw this new Hyperion release I downloaded it at once. I was also curious to hear maestro Mena’s take on this piece, given his somewhat underwhelming Falla collection for Chandos. As for the Bergen band, they’ve done rather well in their recent Stravinsky series with Andrew Litton (BIS).
The soloists in this new Turangalîla
are real thoroughbreds; Steven Osborne, a long-standing member of the Hyperion stable, is much respected for his fine Messiaen, and Cynthia Millar’s mastery of the ondes
has garnered much praise in concert halls here and abroad. So, with everyone at the starting gate, let’s see how they run. Well, it only takes a few seconds to realise this is going to be an unforgettable race. Mena whips his steed into a veritable frenzy from the outset, the sound big, bold and formidably detailed. Frankly it’s a rude shock – albeit a bracing one – and those brazen textures and stomping rhythms are especially disconcerting.
Hyperion’s recording team, led by veteran Andrew Keener, have
outdone themselves here. The fart and shriek of this weird score
has seldom emerged with such clarity and impact; indeed, it makes
Previn, Tortelier et al
sound positively pallid by comparison.
As expected Osborne and Millar play with great abandon, their
contributions easily heard at all times. Any caveats? Well, the
‘Introduction’ gets a bit fraught in the final straight, but Mena
brings out the sheer audacity of Messiaen’s conception better
than just about anyone else I know.
The start of ‘Chant d’amour 1’ is simply astonishing, the music delivered with a crunch and weight that will take your breath away. Most illuminating, though, is the forensic detail of this recording. Every texture and timbre is caught in a thrilling – but entirely natural – perspective. Lest you think all this detracts from Messiaen’s impaling love music it really doesn’t; those entwining figures are as intoxicating as ever – perhaps even more so than most. The consummating crash of the percussion is simply overwhelming. By contrast the tranquil start and finish of ‘Turangalîla 1’ caresses the ear. Just listen to those gentle, descending pizzicati
. Mena catches the mingled perfume and passion of this music to perfection.
The woodwind playing in ‘Chant d’amour 2’ is deft and characterful. The extended piano passages give plenty of shimmer and shine. Messiaen’s massive and very well proportioned tuttis are a terrific counterpoint to these fevered wanderings. As for Mena, he builds and sustains the drama with authority and skill. ‘Joie du sang des étoiles‘ is no less compelling and propulsive. The bass drum is as taut and terrifying as one could wish. Millar’s ondes
playing is transported. Goodness, has this music ever been essayed with such abandon? Have the musicians ever been so eager to surrender to its mystic charms?
The moonlit landscape of ‘Jardin du sommeil d’amour’ is indescribably beautiful and profoundly moving – a matchlessly deep meditation. It’s a mark of this conductor’s skill and insight that even in these moments of near stasis the night flowers release their scents quietly and without cease. Really, Mena, his players and this recording team have conspired to create something very special. It is a performance that moves and breathes like no other Turangalila
I’ve ever heard, either on disc or in the concert hall. Even more remarkable is that this is a humble Red Book recording, whose fearsome dynamics and tonal sophistication put many high-res recordings to shame.
In the short ‘Turangalîla 2’ Osborne’s fine, unerring pianism makes the strongest possible contrast with the exploding supernovae
of the bass drum and assorted percussion. The ensuing ‘Développement de l’amour’ is equally surefooted. The astonishing extremes of this score are accommodated without any hint of compression or manipulated perspective. Again, Mena’s forceful – some might say headlong – approach pays dividends in that it adds enormously to the sense of an approaching, unstoppable apotheosis. Each orchestral peak is more precipitous than the last. As for the movement’s final peroration, it blooms and decays to magnificent effect.
The otherworldly character of ‘Turangalîla 3’ is superbly realised; what committed playing from all quarters. Far from piling Ossa on Pelion the Finale builds to a mighty, heaven-storming climax. I’ve not heard the like of this before; nor am I likely to hear its like again. If this were a live performance I’d expect an instant and vociferous storm of applause, for in the face of such glories nothing else would do.
For Hyperion this is another world-beater: a recording to rank alongside their unforgettable Gothic
C’est vraiment parfait
; this new Turangalîla
sweeps the board.