Top positive review
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a smooth and exciting Turangalila
on 11 February 2010
I had read some negative pr tepid reviews of this performance of Messiaen's eccentric symphony by Kent Nagano at the helm of the Berlin Philharmonic.
But I was very pleasantly surprised when I heard it.
Premise: there isn't an absolutely ideal, definitive performance of any composition. From each performance or recording one can take away the best it can offer. That said, this is a slick, energetic, exciting reading.
The Berlin orchestra is, as always, a dream: unmatched for smoothness and sheer force.
And Nagano approaches the work with speed and ferocity, moving it along (usually where appropriate) at an adrenalinic, frenzied pace. I am not sure this is only due to his interpretation: it might be that that particular orchestra allows him to take it fast (where others might have trouble playing it at that speed).
I would say the main difference between this performance and all the others I have heard (Previn, Salonen, Ozawa) is the sonic positioning of the Ondes Martenot instrument. Where other conductors (especially Salonen) place it in the very foreground, giving it great prominence, Nagano opts for a very discreet approach and "hides" it in the background most of the time. One knows it is there, but its voice is not a protagonist, just an added color. Though I love the instrument, I did think Salonen went overboard a little: placed in the very foreground, it gives the piece a loony, trashy sound that Nagano denies us.
This is a live recording, as opposed to a studio recording, so some lack of detail and clarity is to be expected. The placement of the orchestra sections, and the general "volume" of the performance, seem more discreet and less "in-your-face" than, say, Ozawa's or Previn's.
But my only real reservation is with the very final chords of the finale: Nagano fools around with the volume of the brass in the first sounding of their chord, giving it a flashy, loud crescendo that takes away the impact of the ending itself (the first chord is perceived as louder than the last). I think he does that to show off the versatility and strength of the orchestra. But it comes off as an empty virtuosity. Salonen, for example, refrains from that early flash but really pushes the final crescendo and holds the last chord much longer, giving out a sense of real power. Very exciting.