Birthday Turangalîla for Mariss Jansons



Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen

At 8:02PM, Friday January 11th, I wondered how Mariss Jansons in seemingly out-of-character Messiaen—specifically the Turangalîla Symphony—would sound like. Would Messiaen’s central part of his Tristan & Isolde triptych, this “love song” and “hymn to joy” (Messiaen), really be up Jansons’ alley? At 9:23PM I knew. Frankly: it sounds a little bit like Le Sacre du Printemps, and loud. Not a bad thing at all. True, his Turangalîla doesn’t quite take flight and soars, there’s no insouciance, nothing is casual, it’s not a lusciously warm affair with a trajectory towards paradisical lights. But it audible appeals to Jansons… which only makes sense, since he would hardly have wanted to conduct it otherwise, especially when the Bavarian Radio would have granted him any musical wish he might have had, for his 70th birthday [today, January 14th]. (The maestro even got the tremendously pointless, always-at-least-two-decades-too-late Ernst von Siemens Music Prize (a nice €250K birthday-little-something, though) on the occasion.)

available at Amazon
O.Messiaen, Turangalîla ,
S.Osborne, Cynthia Millar / J.Mena / Bergen Phil.

I think I know what appeals to Jansons in the phantasmorgastic Turangalîla Symphony: It’s the appeal to the child in Jansons (which incidentally takes up most of the space). The toy-like aspect of Messiaen’s work, the playfulness, the dipsy-doodle carousery (it’s a word now), the coy and bright colors… in a way Turangalîla is like a ticket to the musical fairground with oversized lollipops and bright yellow rollercoasters. His assistants, apart from the splendidly colluding Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, were Jean-Yves Thibaudet on piano and Cynthia Millar on the ondes Martenot. The latter was the only dis- and detraction of the night. Mme. Millar made for some very imaginatively played sections (Chant d’amour 1, Turangalîla 2) that included wonderful snarling low notes and parts that sounded like holding one of those swirly Cappuccino-milk-frothers to a gong. But all too often the instrument was too loud and produced a piercing tone that threatened any healthy eardrum in the parameter of the first dozen rows. A lighter touch(e) d’intensité would have been nice.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet, as a Turangalîla-veteran knew what he is doing, and did it well: from steely resonant low notes to the most delicately tinkling little birds in the upper register, he brought the instrument alive with a multitude of distinct colors. The orchestra, many of them with smiles on their faces, was a model of snappy accuracy, and a brave horn player barely flinched when, during the Joie du sang des étoiles, a spotlight gave out with a bang, and a red-hot fleck of wire landed on him.

Appropriately Turangalîla didnot have to share the bill with anything else; delightfully the 2500 seat Philharmonic Hall was sold out (thanks in part to all the medial pre-birthday brouhaha coverage), and even the puzzled faces among the audience were generous with their applause.

Jens F. Laurson