Des canyons aux étoiles: BBC SO Under Oramo Gives Stellar Proms Messiaen Performance

01/08/2019

United KingdomUnited Kingdom BBC PROM 13 – Messiaen, Des canyons aux étoiles: Martin Owen (horn), Nicolas Hodges (piano), David Hockings (xylorimba), Alex Neal (glockenspiel), BBC Symphony Orchestra / Sakari Oramo (conductor), Royal Albert Hall, London. 28.7.2019. (CSa)

Sakari Oramo (c) Chris Christodoulou

Responding to a commission in 1971 to commemorate the bicentenary of the United States Declaration of Independence, Olivier Messiaen travelled to Utah, where he discovered the magnificence of Bryce Canyon. Inspired by its landscapes, skyscapes and bird life, his response was Des canyons aux étoiles (From the Canyons to the Stars). It is a spiritual celebration of the natural world – as much an expression of his deeply held Catholic faith as it is a musical response to the innocence, beauty and power of nature.

The work’s forceful impact defies the actual size of the ensemble – a fact which serves as a metaphor for man’s place in the universe. The solo instruments – a piano (played by the virtuosic Nicolas Hodges), a sparkling xylorimba and glockenspiel (respectively provided by the peerless David Hockings and Alex Neal), and a soulful horn (Martin Owen) – were supported by forty musicians drawn from the talented ranks of the BBC SO under the supple, expressive hands of their Chief Conductor, Sakari Oramo.  Positively benefitting from the canyon-like acoustical challenges of the Royal Albert Hall, they delivered a tightly cohesive, rainbow coloured account of Messiaen’s paean to the glory of God in all his creation.

A lonely horn introduction and a howling wind machine in Part I’s first movement eerily evoked the Canyon’s dry sand wilderness, while flutter tongued flutes and miniature piano cadenzas in the second movement summoned the call of brightly feathered Orioles. In the third movement, entitled Ce qui est écrit sur les étoiles (What was written in the stars), three shrill chords herald the swirling of the earth’s shifting sands. This is achieved by the use of a ‘geophone’, a hand rotated flat drum with thousands of small lead pellets, especially invented by the composer. Meanwhile, in the finale to Part I, glockenspiel, bells, tremulous strings and tweeting trumpet mouthpieces brilliantly conjured the awe-inspiring natural amphitheatre of Cedar Breaks and its teeming, chirruping bird life.

In Appel interstellaire (Interstellar Call), which opens Part II, Owen’s formidable horn playing was followed by a brilliantly defined Bryce Canyon et les rochers rouge-orange (Bryce Canyon and the Red-Orange Rocks). Under Oramo’s expert direction, we were guided clearly through an alien star-lit sound world of strange geological formations, colours and bird song.

A particular highlight was the celestial and redemptive Part III – Les ressuscités et le chant de l’étoile Aldébaran (The Resurrected and the Song of Aldebaran) – in which the shifting harmonies of Kathleen Stevenson’s piccolo and David Hockings’s xylorimba provided momentary respite from the harshness of the canyon. Nicolas Hodges’s pianistic Le moqueur polyglotte (The Mockingbird) was executed in spectacular fashion, while the penultimate movement Omao, leiothrix, elepaio, shama, a chorus of birdsong, was simply thrilling.

It is sobering to learn that barely five months ago, the Trump administration allowed a coal mine not far from Bryce Canyon National Park to expand a further 3,500 acres. The decision is now before the courts. Thanks to performances of this calibre, one can be sure that Messiaen’s great and original masterpiece will continue to stand the test of time. Alas, one cannot be so confident about the location that inspired it

Chris Sallon

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! BBC Proms turns 125 years old – 17 July to 12 September 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera North in 2020-2021 – postponements and plans __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich 2020-2021 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Glyndebourne Festival Opera opens for a 2020 summer season __________________________________
  • NEW! Baritone Federico Longhi’s Rigoletto is part of Parma’s June Verdian renaissance __________________________________
  • NEW! 69th Wexford Festival Opera – 11 to 18 October 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Dresden’s Semperoper reopens with Anna Netrebko on 19 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Berlin’s Pierre Boulez Saal in 2020-21 __________________________________
  • NEW! LMP’s first UK chamber orchestra performances since Covid-19 struck __________________________________
  • NEW! Oxford Lieder Festival – 10-17 October 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Metropolitan Opera (2020–)2021 season update __________________________________
  • NEW! Royal Opera House announces first live concert since beginning of lockdown __________________________________
  • NEW! Semi-staged Das Rheingold on Deutsche Oper Berlin’s parking deck from 12 June __________________________________
  • NEW! A breath of fresh air: Opera Holland Park announces 2021 season __________________________________
  • NEW! Grange Park Opera’s 2020 Found Season – 4 June to 12 July __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2020 Salzburg Festival – 1 to 30 August __________________________________
  • NEW! English Music Festival’s 2020 online series of concerts and talks __________________________________
  • The Singapore Symphony in 2020-2021 __________________________________
  • Musikfest Berlin 2020 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Free Review Summary Newsletter

    Search S&H

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! We’ll be back! The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra weathering the Covid-19 storm __________________________________
  • NEW! World Ballet School Day – inaugural edition 7 July 2020 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Longborough Festival Opera launches podcast and extraordinary generosity of the audience __________________________________
  • NEW! The Music Critics Association of North America Best New Opera Award to Blue __________________________________
  • NEW! Lincoln Center honors Pride with a light installation on its iconic plaza __________________________________
  • R.I.P. Dame Vera Lynn (1917-2020): Did we really need Vera Lynn during the war? __________________________________
  • NEW! What price Sherlock Holmes? __________________________________
  • NEW! BBC to show the ROH’s first post-lockdown performance and their other recent music news __________________________________
  • NEW! Woody Allen comes back fighting with a book and A Rainy Day in New York __________________________________
  • NEW! Educating Rita, says who? __________________________________
  • NEW! 2020 Three Choirs Festival – postponed __________________________________
  • NEW! ACCOMPANIST OR PARTNER? PIANIST SUSIE ALLAN IN CONVERSATION WITH JOHN QUINN __________________________________
  • NEW! Need to escape reality? Enter into the magical world of composer David Hertzberg __________________________________
  • NEW! BTHVN2020 – Beethoven anniversary goes into overtime __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month