Yan Pascal conducts the outstanding BBC Philharmonic in Messiaen’s monumental Turangalîla-symphonie.
Turangalîla (1946-8),commissioned by Koussevitsky for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was one of Messaien’s earliest commissions, and one of the most satisfactory for him. He was given total freedom concerning the kind of work, its length, forces, and even completion date. The title is made up of two Sanskrit words: ’turanga’ signifies ’time’, in the sense of time passing, rhythmic movement; ’lîla’ means ’play’, and includes the notions of opposition, resistance, creation, destruction and love. Where ’turanga’ urges ever onward,’lîla’ holds up, or at least articulates the flow of time with dramatic incident. Each depends on the other for its significance, as death gives meaning to life, or as an ocean is defined by its surrounding continents. The Symphony stands as the second part of what Messiaen called his ’Tristan trilogy’ between the song-cycle Harawi and Cinq rechants for mixed chorus. The opposition of love and death is central to all three. The huge orchestra used for this work includes a piano, ondes martenot, and a large percussion section. The piano, the pitched percussion and the metal percussion form a small orchestra within the whole, its sound being modelled on that of the Balinese gamelan. The Symphony is in ten movements, the ’love’ movements have the even numbers: 2, 4, 6, 8 and the ’Turangalîla’ movements have the odd number: 3, 7, 9. Of the fifth movement ’Joy of the blood of the Stars’ the composer wrote, ’In order to understand the extravagance of this piece, it must be understood that the union of the true lovers is for them a transformation, and a transformation on a cosmic scale’. The tenth movement, Final ’...with great joy’ leads to a triumphant version of the ’love’ theme from the sixth movement and a well-earned final chord of F sharpe major.