If you've never heard anything by Messiaen, this is the perfect place to start. This 2 disc set contains performances of his 2 most popular works, the elusive, mysterious, hauntingly beautiful Quartet for the End of Time and the massive, sprawling, over-the-top extravaganza Turangalila Symphony. I'm an avid Messiaen fan, so naturally I have multiple recordings, and I can tell you both these performances stand with the absolute best. And best of all, it's dirt cheap.
The Turangalila was recorded in the mid 70s at Abbey Road studios and the sound quality is still magnificent. Though analog, you'd think it be top notch digital. Every section of the gargantuan orchestral forces required for this piece (I believe 100+ musicians) is brilliantly captured, including the all-important percussion section. Some of the bass drum thwacks will rattle the floor! The London Symphony Orchestra is one of the world's great orchestras, and they certainly sound like it here. Previn made a bunch of excellent recordings with them during the 70s and this is certainly one of the best of them. Big kudos also to Michel Beroff's performance of the wacky and insanely difficult piano part. It leaves nothing to be desired.
As for the Quartet, Messiaen's wife Yvonne plays the piano. Doesn't get more authentic and authoritative than that. Like the Symphony, it is a top-notch performance, interpretively and sonically. I would say this performance emphazises the powerful rhythms and raw emotions of the piece more than the otherworldly, ethereal qualities. The violin and cello in particular play with great vigor throughout. The 2 great slow movements have rarely sounded so simultaneously beautiful and anguished. And the frenetic 6th movement is played with great precision and zest.
This set also comes with a 3rd shorter piece for piano and violin, simply called Theme and Variations. It is less characteristic than the other 2 works, being an early work and not representative of Messiaen's distinct mature sound. But it is nevertheless a beautiful piece, beautifully performed.
So my personal favorite performances of both works are Chung on DG for the Symphony and Tashi on RCA for the Quartet. Which would cost around $25-30 bucks for both. These performances are pretty much just as good and this set is 11 bucks. Um yeah, a no brainer. Buy it.