Review: BBC Proms - Messiaen's Turangalila Symphonie @ Royal Albert Hall
BBC Proms (Prom 38) - BBC Philharmonic & London Symphony Chorus (upper voices)
Royal Albert Hall, London
Thursday 13th August 2015
I need very little persuasion to head back to London for the Proms and to hear Messiaen.
This Indian-inspired concert of music was a great reminder of the steamy, humid nights spent in the Albert Hall.
Taken from an opera (entitled Avatara) which never saw completion, John Foulds' Three Mantras are deeply inspired by the Hindu gods (even The Buddha) and their actions upon humans. The three pieces, though appealing, are extremely anglicised and leaves very little notion of its influences from stories and music of the subcontinent. The middle movement, Mantra II (of Bliss) (Beatamente) is a highlight, with flurries of blissful notes and a gorgeous wordless female choir. Interesting companion piece from an ignored composer.
Olivier Messiaen is one of my great loves in music (last week at the Proms a newly found piece by him premiered 23 years after his death). The Turangalila Symphonie by Messiaen is an undisputed masterpiece of the 20th century (this is my sixth time hearing it live now and yes, Futurama takes inspiration from the name). The sheer invention in the piece, the totally radical nature and uniqueness are its greatest qualities. In university, I summed up the work as "a massive river of cosmic cycles, exotics perfumes and seething romance." The work is a vibrant as when it was first performed in Boston back in 1949.
Conducted by an excitable Juanjo Mena, The Phil did a stupendous job to bring this hour-and-twenty-minute, ten-movement interstellar, orgiastic monster work to life, proving it's one of Messiaen's most popular pieces. On piano, Steven Osborne masterfully clambered through this most demanding of solos. Valerie Hartmann-Claverie was on the most mind blowing of electronic instruments, the Ondes Martenot, with its sweet, sci-fi sounds. The range of the Ondes is extraordinary and more work should be written for it today (Turangalila is the most famous work featuring one).
This symphony is a must listen to anyone who fancies something different and illustrates how orchestral and popular music developed over the decades. It can be all encompassing with its inspiration in the Tristan myth, birdsong, Indian rhythms, Greek modes and more. The fusion of this new type of music and Hollywood romance is also a masterful appreciation of styles.
As Messiaen said himself, the work is "superhuman, overflowing, dazzling and abandoned".
It remains utterly remarkable...
Rating: 5 stars
BBC Proms continue till Saturday 12th September 2015 with the Last Night of the Proms, and there will be Proms in the Park events in Swansea, Glasgow, Belfast and Hyde Park London.
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