ok - well this is good - This piece was the first Messiaen I heard. I heard it on radio about three times - first hearing, I thought it was very odd and really quite rubbish - the next couple of hearings I was still cynical, but I had never heard anything quite like it before, and it kind of drew me - I started to find the the 5th and 6th movements mesmerizing, as well as the final movement. I eventually ended up buying it on CD - and it is an impressive piece.
I have now listened to some other Messiaen pieces, including Turangalila, the Quartet for the end of Time, Et Exspecto, Des Canyons aux etoiles and Livre du Saint Sacrement which are v good, and I don't know whether or not I would say this is the best, but it has more of a serenely majestic feel to it. The fifth movement is the most ecstatic music I have ever heard, the first movement is a fantastic piece - totally static - it seems to make the piece move outside of time at the very outset. Much of the work consists of a sort of spiritual ecstasy mixed with genuine awe, with scattered birdsong - which acts like a sort of 'small' quality showing that God, whilst majestic and awesome, and awesomely loving, is also beautiful and approachable.
This is music that many people 'won't get' which is a pity, as I think it presents something almost wholly unique in our western society let alone music - we have a busy society which always has to be places, and never feels it can be timeless. This is music that reaches into another world - as indicated in its title - which is far away from our western lives of appointments, meetings and merely forming interest cultures.
The last thing I want to see is this sort of music representing some kind of pretentious modern music culture - it is important stuff - and needs to be heard by a wide range of people. - Not everyone will like it on first hearing- perhaps very few will - but people should work at understanding what is going on and not be scared - after all its difficult to get on with any really good music - even more 'normal' stuff unless you've lived with it a bit. I get quite irritated by people running away from this stuff scared, and I also get irritated by people moaning about the precise quality of some bit of the performance or conductor's pace or something like its important.
End of diatribe - just go listen - and if it seems odd - listen again - and again - perhaps listen to other similar stuff - and don't do it just because you want to show off how educated you are - but give in time and you'll appreciate it. In the future, I think Messiaen may well come to be seen as as important as characters like Mozart or Beethoven or Wagner or Mahler - but this has a different feel - and this is its timelessness.