Le Tombeau resplendissant; Les Offrandes oubliées; L’Ascension; Un Sourire
Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
Alpha Classics ALPHA 548 64:48 mins
For his first disc as chief conductor of the Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich, Paavo Järvi has brought together three works written before Messiaen was 25 and one from his 80s. The symphonic poems Les Offrandes oubliées (1930) and Le Tombeau resplendissant(1931) contrast violent passages of extreme savagery with serene depictions of celestial ecstasy. In fact, the turbulent sections of Le Tombeau give a rare glimpse of public despair from Messiaen – maybe why it was all but withdrawn for about 50 years. Fingerprints of the composer’s influences, notably Stravinsky and Dukas, abound in the faster music of both these works as well as the four-movement cycle L’Ascension (1932-33). Järvi and his Zurich forces convey the passion, but occasionally lack a little heft and impetus when Messiaen brutally unleashes the orchestra’s full power.
What is remarkable about these scores, though, is the young composer’s fully-formed, radical, slow-moving evocations of the divine. Strings predominate, providing the ever-rising radiant harmonies at the end of L’Ascension as well as the beatific conclusions to Les Offrandes and Le Tombeau. Järvi gives a masterclass in controlled movement within stillness, sustaining the long-breathed lyrical chorale of the Mozart tribute Un Sourire (1989) across the perky birdsong interludes. Ideally another underplayed early work, Hymn au Saint Sacrement, would have been included showing the young Messiaen’s more upbeat side. Overall, though, this disc augurs well for Järvi’s partnership with his new orchestra.