Olivier Messiaen (1908-92)

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Berliner Philharmonie, Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße, Berlin

Koussevitzky-commissioned, Boston & Bernstein-premiered (1949), Messiaen’s ten-movement Turangalîla calls for a large orchestra and sports a virtuoso piano part and the otherworldly soundwaves of the ondes Martenot. “A love song, a hymn to joy”, said the composer, who was fascinated by the Tristan and Isolde legend, Turangalîla played here for eighty minutes, relayed in superb sound – so much to capture, the vibrancy, ecstasy, complex rhythms and scoring, the balance of the front-of-stage piano and ondes so that neither dominates (sharing with celesta and keyed glockenspiel), the rear-of-stage panoply of percussion adding a continuum of colour – all handsomely brought off. Simone Young, quite a number of performances to her credit over twenty-five years, connecting to the committed Philharmoniker, brought out vitality and languor in equal measure, with relish and sensitivity, the swoops of the ondes adding to the allure (Cynthia Millar notched up her one-hundredth Turangalîla appearance a few years ago), and Cédric Tiberghien gave a masterly and unassuming account of the piano writing, nothing showy, rather an integration of the instrument’s role yet with no lack of character. Whether of brightest daylight or darkest night, of zealous dance (movements V & X) or rapt contemplation (enchanted colours), monolithic processionals or the most withdrawn time-suspended episodes (transporting), this was an impressive rendition, technical demands conquered so that the music shone without compromise, exhilaratingly, and was expressively spellbinding, quite thrilling in the final measures, pulsating, Young making something of the culminating crescendo both in held-on length and ultimate volume – Love travelling Heavenwards, arriving.