Tonight I went to hear the Sydney Symphony perform Messiaen’s Turangalîla-symphonie.

It is difficult to judge such a performance. The work is massive and astounding, even though it is, as Elliott Gyger commented in his program note, the most conventional of Messiaen’s orchestral works. It is atypical in that it lacks birdsong elements and the mystic [Roman-]Catholicism which suffuses his many works. For the latter, fond though I am of the exquisite metaphysics of his Vingt Regards I am personally grateful: I get more than enough of that in the Uncle-Tom-ish rantings of John Heard, (google if you wish: I refuse to link to him) if I feel like getting wound up.

Two only notes on the performance:

It was another triumphant return for Simone Young to her home town. She got a roar of applause even before the piece began.

Cedric Tiberghien played the solo piano part marvellously. I don’t think it is his fault that, by the time the piano had to make its sweetest contribution, it was rather less in tune in its upper register than would have been optimal. That’s the fault of the composer in requiring so much fortissimo chordal work earlier in the work.

The other singular aspect about the Turangalîla-symphonie is the part for the Ondes Martinot. This is a kind of electronic musical saw invented by a man called Martinot in 1928, and very similar to the Theremin. In its more lyrical mode it sounds rather like the distinctive sound for the main theme in the music for Doctor Who.

I have a phobia about the mixture of electronic, or at least amplified, and acoustic instruments, This is because, especially when mixed by the rock-and-roll-habituated guys at the sound desk, there is an almost inevitable disproportion between the electronic sound and the acoustical sounds, with Liliputian consequences for the acoustic musicians. Yet the Ondes Martinot suffers from no such disproportion. I think this is because it comes with its own amplification rather like the small box-amplifier that street buskers use, and also because it plays, proportionately, with massed acoustic instruments. It is not wired through the auditorium’s main PA system. That is a mercy, and a good thing.

There are two more performances: on Saturday and Monday. I can’t go on Saturday, because I am going to hear the Australia Ensemble play, amongst other things, one of my very favourite works, the Spohr Grand Nonet. I am sorely tempted to go again on Monday.

One Response to “Turangalîla-symphonie

  1. Tale of two trumpeters « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] would be to hear a concertante soloist playing it with the orchestra, a la Tiberghien last year in Turangalîla. I’m not the only one to whom this thought has […]

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