The Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, offered a singular and dazzling version of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila-Symphonie on Wed 4/25.
Messiaen’s work was one of a group of related concerts dedicated to what Welser-Möst characterized in the program notes as “Divine Ecstasy” or “transcendence.” He described this phenomenon as a feeling of spiritual and personal lifting up; one place it may be noticed is in the silence that falls at the end of a concert. It’s a time when all thought moves from concerns of self into a sense of the eternal.
Did Turangalila inspire that? Certainly it was delightful, often moving. Little touches enhanced the piece, for example, a large contingent of basses moving as one (and the other strings chiming in, all equally in sync), varied percussion — a chinese cymbal, tam-tam, maracas, bells, keyboard glockenspiel, solo piano and, to be sure, the exotic ondes martenot.
And yes, there was indeed appreciative silence at the end of Turangalila. The piece itself premiered in 1949 at Boston, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, but it still sounds fresh and interesting. The ten movements switched wildly from one style to another — at times sounding near dissonantly modern, at others like a romantic film score. (At one point several Amber Alerts went off around us and we weren’t sure at first that they weren’t just part of the concert.) Listening to it is like walking from room to room through an art museum, passing from Ab Ex moderns to Impressionists to Renaissance to Asian works. (You get the idea, there’s a little something for everyone.)
But it all held together in a strange way, so that must be that “ecstasy” Welser-Möst mentions. The final movement built smoothly to the Tristan-style climax and, yes, the audience did fall silent. (It was good for us?)
Outstanding solo work included that by pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who seemed to magically know when to play in passages that appeared suddenly and surprisingly. Cynthia Millar, playing the ondes martenot, also held attention. And, of course, the fine musicians of the Cleveland Orchestra swept all along as they followed Messiaen’s demanding (and beautiful) score.