Messiaen: Turangalîla-Symphony, L'ascension

Messiaen: Turangalîla-Symphony, L'ascension

by Antoni WitAntoni Wit


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"The symphony must be like the world," Gustav Mahler once said. "It must be all-embracing." Olivier Messiaen went even further in his Turangalîla-Symphonie (1948), which bids to encompass the whole cosmos. Clocking in at just over 80 minutes in this recording, it may not quite be the longest symphony ever written (Mahler topped him there), but it's certainly the most flamboyantly idiosyncratic. In ten movements, Turangalîla -- which the composer translated broadly as "song of love, hymn to joy, time, movement, rhythm, life, and death" -- draws on Hindu tradition, the legend of Tristan and Isolde, birdsong, and the most advanced innovations of musical modernism. Ranging between the fiercest dissonances and the most tender melodies, swerving from fiendish piano cadenzas to the swooping electronic sounds of the ondes martenot, Turangalîla occupies a heterogeneous universe of sound that could not have been created -- or even imagined -- by anyone other than Messiaen. The score is immensely challenging, but Antoni Wit and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra give many better-known conductors and orchestras a run for their money. There is exhilaration in the faster movements, a dreamy languor in the slow ones, just the right feeling of sensory overload at the climaxes, and a wealth of precise and finely detailed orchestral playing. An earlier, more modest work for orchestra, L'ascension (1932), fills out the second disc of this set. Here, as in many other pieces, Messiaen was inspired by the mysteries of Catholicism, and the expression, while varied and colorful, is far more restrained than in Turangalîla. Opening with brass chorales and proceeding through woodwind litanies and a celebratory dance for the full orchestra, the work ends with radiant, enraptured strings. Wit leads his orchestra in another winning performance here, making this budget-priced set desirable both for newcomers to Messiaen and for those who already know and love his thoroughly unique music.

Product Details

Release Date: 10/17/2000
Label: Naxos
UPC: 0636943447826
catalogNumber: 8554478-79
Rank: 252827


  1. Turangalîla-symphonie, for piano, ondes martenot, & orchestra, I/29
  2. L' Ascension, 4 meditations for orchestra, I/12a

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Antoni Wit   Primary Artist

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