Record Guide: Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie

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Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony, written between 1946 and 1948, is a spectacular work. The name of the symphony comes from two Sanskrit words – turanga and lila – which together mean ‘love song and hymn of joy, time, movement, rhythm, life and death’. The symphony lasts between 70 and 80 minutes and consists of ten movements. Messiaen also uses a huge orchestra, including the unusual electronic instrument Ondes Martenot, as well as glockenspiel, vibraphone and five percussionists. Messiaen wants to capture everything in creation and life. The music is almost intoxicating with its strong emotions and evocative sounds. It would be difficult to find anything more erotic in music from this period.

Solid recordings

Riccardo Chailly’s interpretation with the virtuoso Concertgebouw Orchestra on Decca attracted much attention when it was released in 1993. And while it is spectacular in terms of sound and orchestral tone, it lacks a certain imagination and sensuality.

Myung-Whun Chung is the great Messiaen specialist on record, with numerous recordings of the composer’s works. His 1991 interpretation has much of what Chailly’s lacks, namely warmth and mystery, although the Orchestre de l’Opera Bastille lacks some orchestral finesse.

Yan Pascal Tortelier and the BBC Philharmonic (1998) make a dramatically charged interpretation on Chandos. Well played, committed and with a wonderful sound. Better than many better-known names.

Juanjo Mena’s interpretation with the Bergen Philharmonic on Hyperion (2012) is probably the most enthusiastic and spontaneous released of the work. It bursts with life, desire and love for the symphony.

Top recommendation

But if I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be Hannu Lintu’s 2014 version with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. It crackles with intensity and passion from start to finish. Lintu also has excellent control of the music and builds the orchestral climax majestically.


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