Chances to hear Messiaen's epic Turangalîla-Symphonie are few and far between and should be grasped accordingly. Given the 80-minute duration of this somewhat disingenuously described 'song of love', it usually stands alone in a concert programme, alongside other such works as Mahler's Third and Eighth symphonies, so it was generous of conductor Kirill Karabits and his Bournemouth forces to preface the main event with Bizet's youthful Symphony in C, a work which in its brevity and conciseness seems to be everything which Turangalîla is not. 

Kirill Karabits © Denis Manokha
Kirill Karabits
© Denis Manokha

And this was no mere hastily thrown together hors d'oeuvre but a cogent and committed performance, featuring some excellent solos from clarinet and bassoon in the Andante-Adagio second movement and given an excellent overall sense of shape from Karabits. The jewel-like delicacy of the orchestration was revealed in a performance that was clearly con amore. The symphony remains an astonishing achievement for a 17-year old student composer and if it has faults – the cleverness of the writing doesn't quite disguise the paucity of Bizet's melodic invention – they are amiable ones.

For Turangalîla, the orchestra was augmented by Steven Osborne on piano and Cynthia Millar on the ondes martenot, the post-WW2 instrument that gives the work so much of its distinctive character. In some performances, depending on where you're sitting, the ondes can overwhelm the balance of the orchestra but, if anything, from my seat in the Gallery, it seemed low in the mix, sometimes getting lost in Messiaien's overwhelming tuttis. That, and a certain blockishness to the performance which sometimes made it seem episodic rather than part of a free-flowing whole, were the only criticisms I could raise against what was otherwise an extremely committed reading, with excellent work put in by all sections to compensate for the sometimes difficult acoustic of Leeds Town Hall.

Osborne's pellucid account of the piano part was a major asset in the Jardin du Sommeil d’amour movement although there were moments when this came across less as an integrated movement than an extract from a piano concerto, so subdued did the string tone seem. But there were compensations in the form of a rambunctious Joie du Sang des Étoiles and the increasingly impressive way in which the Turangalîla theme was developed impressively throughout the vast body of the work. Added to that, an unforgettably resonant ending, with the closing chord echoing around the hall, this was a performance to savour, whatever small cavils one might have encountered along the way.