Messiaen: Turangalîla Symphony; L’ascension

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COMPOSERS: Messiaen
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Turangalîla Symphony; L’ascension
PERFORMER: François Weigl (piano), Thomas Bloch (ondes martenot); Polish National RSO, Katowice/Antoni Wit
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554478-79
The highly charged Turangalîla Symphony, with its rich blend of exotic and surreal elements inspired by the Tristan myth, is Messiaen’s best-known orchestral work. The first BBC broadcast (1951) caused apoplexy among the corporation’s governors, and now it is part of the repertoire. Nevertheless, the desire to use Turangalîla as a showpiece has meant that performances often overlook the need for the work to be fun and exude an irrepressible joy.

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The Polish forces on this new account have a strong pedigree in Messiaen’s music. Antoni Wit was regarded very highly by the composer, and his recording with the same orchestra of Messiaen’s last masterpiece, Éclairs sur l’au-delà…, is profoundly moving. In Turangalîla Wit is markedly more exciting than Myung-Whun Chung’s sublime but curiously understated account (DG), and has more humanity than Chailly’s flashy but soulless reading (Decca). The opening is absolutely gripping, quieter moments are beautifully phrased and ebullient passages certainly lack no enthusiasm or joy. François Weigl is a thoroughly convincing piano soloist, and Thomas Bloch’s ondes martenot is carefully balanced, although with occasional dubious intonation. For most of this ebullient symphony the newcomer is a match for the effervescent CBSO under Rattle and Previn’s electrifying LSO account (both EMI). Unfortunately, Wit’s orchestra begins to flag in ‘Joie du sang des étoiles’ (despite the composer’s revised dynamics), and the last movement is unbearably sluggish. There are many good things elsewhere, though, with a lovely performance of L’ascension and at bargain price, this is an appealing recording. Christopher Dingle