We usually think of Seiji Ozawa's musical passions as "recollected in tranquillity," and for this reason it is valuable to have recorded evidence of a vastly different conductor, before the decline into staleness and tedium that marked his final years with the BSO. On the evidence of this production from 1967, Ozawa in his younger days could galvanize even a less than world-class ensemble (sorry, Toronto--but you're not quite in the same league as the BSO) into performing at the highest pitch of passionate abandon. if ever a score called for such abandon, it is Messiaen's *Turangalila*, a work of such seething erotic *jouissance* as to make Stravinsky's *Le Sacre du Printemps* seem like the proverbial "Sunday school picnic."
There have been numerous accounts of *Turangalila* since Ozawa's pioneering effort in 1967 (the first really viable version of the stereo era), but none have surpassed Ozawa for the ideal balance of elemental power and discipline. The Toronto orchestra surpass themselves on this occasion with playing of mind-boggling accuracy, vibrancy and virtuosity, even at Ozawa's bracing tempos in movements such as the Introduction, "Joie du sang des étoiles," and the exhaustingly intense Finale (among others). Ozawa secures remarkably clean textures--at times you can hear nearly everything that's going on in Messiaen's multi-layered musical universe, with resulting sensory overload (in which every lover of the score will surely revel). Throughout the long haul of ten movements, the all-important piano and ondes Martinot parts are superbly dispatched by the Loriod sisters in their prime. I also appreciate the way Ozawa balances the ondes; its singular timbre is audible when it needs to be, yet never obtrudes or dominates the texture unduly. The piano is more closely balanced than is ideal, perhaps, but with such distinguished playing by the foremost interpreter of this key "role" in the Sacred Drama, I am not inclined to complain.
Ozawa's classic account of *Turangalila* is in truth an exhilarating experience. Only the time-suspending "Jardin du sommeil d'amour" disappoints to some extent; one longs for greater sensuous allure--that singular combination of opulence and intense concentration--than Ozawa's unexpectedly sober account provides. Previn, whose reading of this work represents another benchmark, is at his most convincing in this movement. But that minor blemish should by no means deter prospective listeners from seeking out this first-rate (dare I say unsurpassed?) performance of Messiaen's masterpiece. The remastered recording is nothing short of stunning in its visceral impact and amplitude. Recent digital versions, such as Chung on DG and Nagano on Warner, may provide plusher sonics, with enhanced firmness in the bass register, but otherwise the sound on this RCA "Red Seal" reissue is exemplary.
Not to be missed.