Messiaen - Turangalîla-Symphonie

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Wednesday May 27 2015

Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen. Piano: Pierre-Laurent Aimard. Ondes Martenot: Valérie Hartmann-Claverie. Philharmonia Orchestra. 

The Philharmonia's Turangalîla under Salonen on Wednesday evening came across, from where I was sitting, as a massive display of scorching orchestral fire-power: the brass and percussion blasting away like heavy artillery at the rear, the dry English woodwind's lighter artillery and the searing, steely siren sounds of the strings in the middle, and at the front, celesta and glockenspiel scattering gleaming, ear-piercing shrapnel, the wailing shells of the ondes Martenot, and Pierre-Laurent Aimard manning a one-man machine gun battery, shooting off salvos of bullets with deadly accuracy and taking no prisoners. Tempi were relatively brisk, Messiaen's sudden silences were deafeningly abrupt, the overall effect was more martial than loving, and apart from brief moments of respite, it was either loud, very loud, or just brutally loud: no half measures, it seemed... from where I was sitting.

Turangalila in Valencia
That, I think, was the problem. The TCE has the mad idea that top-category seats include the front rows. Not quite so mad for opera, when the orchestra is in a pit, but here I found myself in the middle of row two, staring at the string section's (impeccable) socks and the underbelly of the Steinway and perfectly placed to hear the excellent Aimard's strenuous grunting and groaning (I note you can also hear it on the BBC's broadcast of the same concert in London), especially during Jardin du sommeil d'amour. I had a very nice nod and smile from the lady at the celesta above me to the left. From such a position, of course the balance is totally skewed: the piano, celesta and glockenspiel dominate, and at moments of goodness knows how many fs, you just can't tell what's going on behind. I heard, from someone on row eleven, that it was an amazingly accurate, detailed performance - the audience behind me went wild - but, as Gershwin might have said, not for me. I'd bought this concert deliberately to hear the Philharmonia "on display" but was disappointed simply to be deafened by a maelstrom of sheer sound.

I already have my tickets for the TCE's next season. I've decided, therefore, to check the rows and, if necessary, ask for different seats.

Classical Iconoclast reviewed the London concert (which also included some Debussy) in detail.

To see Turangalila in Valencia, click here.
To see a video of an unforgettable night of Turangalila, click here.


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