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Sorted for Eternity

01/17/1999 -  
Olivier Messaien Cinq rechants, Turangalîla Symphony
Yvonne Loriot (piano), Jeanne Loriot (ondes martenot)
BBC Singers
Stephen Cleobury (conductor)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Andrew Davis (conductor)

This year the Barbican's weekend in celebration of a twentieth-century composer was dedicated to Messaien. The final concert consisted of the second and third parts of his Tristan trilogy which was composed in the years following the war, with the shorter third part, Cinq rechants, first. The first part, Halawi, a song cycle for soprano and piano, was performed in the afternoon.

The trilogy expresses and glorifies the idea of a love which, Messaien said, in a sense invites death because it "transcends -- even the limits of the mind -- and extends on a cosmic scale". This is a love for the whole of creation, including famously the birds, and it is also romantic love, including Messaien's love with Yvonne Loriot. They met and fell in love in 1942, but were unable to marry until after the death of Messaien's first wife in 1959. There are only a few explicit allusions to the traditional story of Tristan and Isolde (in the words of Cinq rechants, alluding to the troubador tradition which is one source of the story). But the three-part structure with its tension between time and rhythm on one hand and the eternally returning themes on the other evokes Wagner's work indirectly.

Cinq rechants is a set of five verse-and-refrain setting for twelve unaccompanied voices. The settings of mythological-lyrical fragments, Peruvian folk lyrics and pure syllabic sounds, are cumulative, piling up tones, textures and texts, and more discordant than similar developments in the more familiar Turangalîla. The BBC Singers under Stephen Cleobury gave a performance which was perhaps even more abrasive than the music demanded. But it was good to hear Turangalîla in the context of the completed trilogy, which ends with a steady resolution of the musical layers into a single line, "dans l'avenir", in the future.

Ending the concert and the weekend with Turangalîla was justified not just by its length and popularity, but also by the sublime exuberance of this performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Andrew Davis. It was incredibly moving to see and hear Yvonne Loriot's joyful participation in a work which celebrates her love. She and her sister Jeanne Loriot are perhaps more grand'mère than grandes dames in appearance. But when they play -- Yvonne outgoing and sweeping on the piano, Jeanne introspective on the ethereal ondes martenot -- their authority is overwhelming.

Turangalîla can be made to sound like orientalizing nonsense, but not tonight. The audience in the sold-out Barbican Hall was ecstatic.

H.E. Elsom



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