Support independent arts journalism by joining our Patreon! Currently $5/month.

About Superconductor

Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Concert Review: Transcendence Ain't Easy

Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Turangalîla-Symphonie.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Gustavo Dudamel led the Turangalîla-Symphonie
at Carnegie Hall on Saturday night. Image © 2016 Deutsche Grammophon/UMG
Olivier Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphonie is one of the most original and uncompromising large-scale compositions for orchestra of the 20th century. Its 1949 premiere polarized the music world. Sixty-seven years later, performances of this work have the power to enthrall or repel even the most hardened audience. Because of its unwieldy length, stringent instrumental requirements, it is not heard often. It was a bold choice for Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and their leader Gustavo Dudamel, forming the entire content of Saturday night's concert at Carnegie Hall.

Messiaen, a French composer, pursued interests in church organ music, ornithology, Eastern mysticism and Roman Catholicism over a long and influential compositional career. With the Turangalîla-Symphonie, he pitched every aspect of his unique style into a bubbling stew that sprawls across a 74-minute length and ten diverse movements. Although it is written around four main themes, the symphony ignores conventional forms for a "cyclic" approach, reiterating and reanalyzing musical ideas with fresh combinations of instruments, including an army of percussion, a solo piano and the ondes Martenot, a primitive, oscillating electronic instrument invented in 1928.

From the thunderous opening bars, Mr. Dudamel's approach to this work was to emphasize its dramatic and dynamic qualities. The doughty SBSOV brass blared out the signature "statue" theme, looming forth in the trombones and tuba. The strings, piano, ondes and keyed percussion answered in swooping curves of sound. This was a burly, big-shouldered approach, with fast tempos throughout. Mr. Dudamel succeeded in capturing much of the excitement in this music but little of its subtlety.

The title of this work is a portmanteau of two Sanskrit words, evoking together the ideas of joy, love movement and death. That title also applies to three interstitial movements: Turangalîla I, II and III. These evoke dark, Gothic landscapes of sound, a contrast with the ecstatic expression of love, bird-song and religious ecstasy that dominates the other movements. They each had their own thrills and pleasures.

Mr. Dudamel and his players demonstrated deep commitment throughout this performance, from the painful sehnsucht of the initial Chant d'amour to the ecstatic scherzo-like Joie du Sang des Étoiles. This whirling ball of sonic energy culminated in a giant, extended chord, one of the most impressive sonic moments that this writer has ever heard this ensemble generate.

The solo piano part of this work is demanding, and French virtuoso Jean-Yves Thibaudet worked hard for all ten movements. However, the intricacies of his playing were often obscured and out of balance, drowned out by the surging, raging orchestra behind him. Played by soloist Cynthia Miller, ondes, with its three speakers located right below the belly of the piano also had trouble making itself heard at times, although its electronic nature made it easier for its voice to cut through the orchestra.

There were glorious moments in the second half. Chief among these was the sixth movement: Jardin du Sommeil d’amour with its tinkling piano and slow evocation of the transcendent love of Tristan and Isolde. The knotty Développement movement (which reworks ideas heard in the opening in preparation for the finale) made for compelling listening as one followed the twists and turns. The final movement is the most traditional here, reprising ideas and bringing back the final, ecstatic chord, rewarding the long journey of this work with a reprise of its most beautiful sound. 

Trending on Superconductor


Share My Blog!

Share |

Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats