Tag Archives: The Rest is Noise

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.

Review: Child of Our Time, London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir

I have loved this work by Tippett since I discovered it in the 1960s, around the same time as Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow. Ryan Wigglesworth conducted with great skill and passion and the choir were in fine voice. The bass, Matthew Rose, was astonishing with every word coming across clearly; the other three soloists were good but slightly less clear. Tippett started writing this oratorio in 1939 on the day Britain declared war and continued through his own internment as a conscientious objector. It deals with the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis but was completed in 1941, before the true horror of the Holocaust was revealed. In looking for a voice to represent an oppressed people, he turned to spirituals rather than more conventional religious passages. I was not sure these would still work but within seconds of “Steal away” starting, the prickles ran not just up my spine but all my body. My only slight reservation was seeing black music sung when there was not a single black person among the 200 or so in the orchestra and choir. This work is crying out for someone to bring it to life with a gospel choir, and Willard White would have been even better as the bass. A great start for my first concert in The Rest is Noise, the massively ambitious run through the 20th century music at the South Bank.