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Review: RLPO and Petrenko play Turangalila *****

January 26, 2018

Romantic love and death have long been artistic bedfellows, the inspiration for great literature and art, from Tristan and Isolde to Heathcliffe and Cathy.

Perhaps only Emily Bronte’s bleak, brutal and passionate tale comes close to the staggering effect wrought by Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony, a monumental piece given a stunning outing at Hope Street under Vasily Petrenko’s baton.

And indeed, Petrenko’s genial tutelage, the conductor introducing the work as “one of the pinnacles of our season” and delivering a potted history of its creation, premiere (with a 30-year-old Leonard Bernstein on the box) and themes – as well as pointing out it has “one of the most difficult piano parts ever written”.

No pressure then Steven Osborne!

Joking aside, Osborne, who has recorded the symphony and was on duty on the Phil’s Steinway for this stellar RLPO performance, plunged in to Messiaen’s thundering, ferocious music with real intensity, while award-winning Nathalie Forget was in charge on the bizarre ondes Martetnot, an early type of synth-come-theremin, with its other-worldly swoops of sound.

Around them, Petrenko marshalled a beefed-up orchestra in to a performance of thrilling power and precision, from the robust introduction, a riot of repetitive themes, furious violins an ominous brass – punctuated by Osborne’s spiky piano, to the beatific joy of the final.

Vibrant, startling, turbulent, earthy, and radiant to boot, this was Turangalila turned up to 11.

Messiaen himself attended the Phil’s first performance of the symphony 50 years ago (his wife and sister-in-law were the soloists). I suspect he would have enjoyed this performance just as much, if not more than the first one.

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