MESSIAEN: Turangalila-Symphony – Angel Hewitt, p./ Valerie Hartmann-Claverie, Ondes Martenot/ Finnish Radio Sym. Orch./ Hannu Lintu – Ondine

MESSIAEN: Turangalila-Symphony – Angela Hewitt, piano/ Valerie Hartmann-Claverie, Ondes Martenot/ Finnish Radio Sym. Orch./ Hannu Lintu – Ondine multichannel SACD ODE 1251-5, 75:08 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

“Turangalila means all at the same time song of love, hymn to joy, time, movement, rhythm, life, and death.” These words of Olivier Messiaen capture the breadth and sheer scale of the Tristan-inspired work that closes out the first third of the composer’s career. The huge conception of the piece, concurrent with an orchestra to match, including triple woodwinds, four horns and trumpets, and the exotic ondes Martenot as well as the more standard piano—in a particularly nasty and virtuosic vein—causes the piece to have rather fewer performances than the piece that commissioner Serge Koussevitsky considered its only equal in modern times—Le Sacre du Printemps.

Even the authority of the young Leonard Bernstein, who gave the premiere in 1949 with the Boston Symphony (yet curiously never recorded it), was not enough to launch the work into universal acceptance. Many admired it, as many continue to admire the music of Messiaen without necessarily liking it, but there were those whose hostility was barely hidden. And recording-wise, there are only about 12 or 13 currently available on the market—and when is the last time you heard the piece in the concert hall? But listening to it today, we can only but marvel at the radiant beauties of the work and the extraordinary structure in which the composer presents his rather highly-connected ideas. And though it can be, simply by means of association, a little difficult to adjust to the Ondes Martenot in the light of the Bernard Hermann movie score and other sci-fi connotations (that unfortunately “date” the piece far later than it was actually written), it remains one of the finest compositions of the last century, a brilliant orchestral showpiece, and one that cries out for the most technically sophisticated and state-of-the-art sound treatment imaginable.

Here, now, I get it. The only other multichannel version of the work is the Decca Classics version with The Concertgebouw and Riccardo Chailly.  There have been a number of standard recordings in the last ten years deserving of it. My favorite has remained the composer-authorized recording with Myung Whun Chung from 1991 with the Bastille Orchestra (DGG), to me the finest of all readings thus far with the exception of the still vaulted—except maybe in Japan—Ormandy/ Philadelphia recording (RCA) which I wish was more readily available. But now we have a reading as exultant as either of these and offered in stunning surround sound that has richness and tonal opulence just about as impressive as any orchestral recording I have heard. The dynamic range is formidable, and the sheer energy of the sound strikes you in such a palpable manner that you wonder if a concert hall experience could be much better. Perhaps Glenn Gould’s predictions have finally come true.

Hannu Lintu steers his forces with conviction and unmatched authority. This is a keeper!

—Steven Ritter

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