Prom 6: An American in Paris and Turangalîla

The wonderful juggernaut that is the BBC Proms continued tonight with Olivier Messiaen’s gigantic Turangalîla-Symphonie (1949) performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo. It’s a huge, daunting score and the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave an energetic and pretty accurate account. I teamed up with a fellow promenader, a francophone student from Kings College London whom I had met at yesterday’s prom. He’d borrowed the full score of Turangalîla-Symphonie from the uni library and, following it together, we stayed pretty much on the page all the way through. He’s a pianist so followed the keyboard parts and I mostly followed the orchestra, that way it worked out for us both (merci, mon ami).

Nonetheless, whilst I now feel I know Turangalîla-Symphonie rather better and am very aware of Olivier Messiaen’s undoubted technical achievement, I didn’t warm to this performance of his symphonic vision based on the interplay between love and death based on the Tristan und Isolde legend and various Sanskrit concepts. I’m wondering why Leonard Bernstein, having conducted the first performance, seems to have never conducted the work again.
It’s possible that I’m washed out emotionally by great performances on successive nights of Shostakovich’s Leningrad symphony, then Pelléas et Mélisande and now Turangalîla.
The piece before the interval was George Gershwin’s An American in Paris. The BBC Symphony Orchestra let rip just a little on this, filling the great space of the Albert Hall with a jazzy sound. They’re clearly not the Glen Miller Band - It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing - but they were trying hard and having fun with it before taking very seriously the symphony which followed the interval. Which brings me to a diagnosis of what was missing from their performance of Turangalîla; thrilling it was in detail but still not enough raw lust, so unfortunately, the performance overall left me cold.. Neither Carmen nor Tristan work fully without visible, tactile, lust and neither does Turangalîla.


Prom 6

Gershwin: An American in Paris
Messiaen: Turangalîla Symphony

Angela Hewitt (piano)
Cynthia Millar (ondes martenot)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sakari Oramo (conductor)