Review: Turangalila Symphony, Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra

Another concert in the stupendous The Rest is Noise at the South Bank, as part of which I saw Child of our Time a few weeks ago. As with that work, I have loved Messiaen’s amazing “symphony” since the 60s but have never seen it live. As with all concerts in the series, there was an introduction and an interview with the conductor, Thierry Fischer, who explained the scale of the work: two soloists (Stefan Stroissnig on piano and Cynthia Millar on the astonishing ondes martenot), 12 percussionists, including celeste, glockenspiel and vibraphone emulating a gamelan orchestra, plus full symphony orchestra with what is effectively a brass band’s worth additional instrumentation.

It is no wonder that this (like the Paris premiere) was performed by a student orchestra and they performed it excellently. Although the work seems very complex on record, in a live performance it becomes clearer that virtuoso performances are only demanded from the two soloists, each section of the orchestra performing simpler, highly tuneful music – the complexity comes from hearing all of them at once. It is still a very distinctive, joyful and highly melodic work which made for an extremely enjoyable evening. Tippett started composing Child of our Time on the day war was declared; Messiaen started composing Turangalila in 1946, just after it ended. The first was a warning about the war to come, the other a celebration of its ending, both huge, both intensely beautiful.

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