Messiaen's Turangalîla-symphonie is a very complex composition and a difficult work which requires massive musical forces, a lot of energy for a more than an hour-length work and a brilliant mind to decode the ten movements and present them to the listener. But is also a love story. And the charismatic narrator Gustavo Dudamel guided us through this journey of supreme love.

Gustavo Dudamel & Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra © Nohely Oliveros | Fundamusical Bolívar
Gustavo Dudamel & Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra
© Nohely Oliveros | Fundamusical Bolívar
Along with Dudamel came the pianist Yuja Wang. Wearing vertiginous platform stilettos, my first thought was: how she was going to play the pedals?! She played her part brilliantly and with cold precision. Wang performed the difficult role assigned to the piano in this piece amazingly well. The SBSOV did a good job showing understanding and provided rich sounds in an exceptional performance.

Turangalîla is a difficult work for the listener as well, and Dudamel built his reading on the pillars formed by the main circular themes that appear through the piece. The first movement presented two of these, the “statue” in the the brass, pesante and clear, is the masculine theme, and created a lively contrast between the strings and the gamelan group and the piano, that played vivid and rhythmic motifs, followed by the feminine “flower theme”, subtle and delicate. Dudamel placed these themes in a dominant position as we moved between the Turangalîla movements (III, VII and IX) and the love movements or “Chant d’amour” (II, IV, VI, VIII). In some moments, though, he missed the rich and varied rhythmic and melodic patterns that Messiaen carefully crafted in this work, for example, on the second movement (Chant d’amour, I) or on the fifth one where, despite the musicians playing with extreme exactness, there was little structural clarity.

In the second movement we heard a magnificient ondes martenot, brilliantly played by Cinthya Millar, enjoying the melody and transmitting a strong lyricism, in contrast with the gamelan group which was purely rhytmic and accompanied by soft strings. The first Turangalîla movement opened with a delicate clarinet that leads to a varied range of rhythmic patterns and short themes which grew in intesinty and tension as more timbres were added, until a great and hectic mass of sounds is reached. The trumpet, beautifully played, also took an important role. The second “Chant d’amour” brought a delightful velvety sound in the strings well bound in with the piano, played with amazing precision. Wang closed this movement with a brilliant piano cadenza, percussive and incisive.

The fifth movement acts as a bridge, closing the previous sections and stablishing a huge contrast to the next one. A great sound mass was created, otherwise played with such a great precision so we could distinguish the different instruments. The piano again had a very difficult role, but Wang played with exquisite technique. The main theme dominates this movement which ends with a triumphal finale. (The main themes that had been leading dilute here, at last, into the third one, the “love theme”, which dominate from thereon.) The sixth movement was definitely one of the best moments. The “love theme” (derived from the two previous ones), was heard complete for the first time, dominating the rest of the symphony. The orchestra played beautifully, presenting a ravishing sound with careful phrasing. Dudamel drew a balanced sound from all the sections to create an involving, engaging sound, to carry us to share the lovers’ moment. He brought about clarity among the different rhythms, creating great tension.

A piano cadenza introduced us into the seventh movement, light and relaxed, with little tension at all, to move to the climax movement of the symphony. The “love theme” dominated this section. The final Turangalîla section sounded hypnotic and horrific, the orchestra creating a contrast between the ondes martenot, playing long melodies, and the piano, used almost as a percusion instrument, strings in the background. The symphony closed with a vivid and sweeping movement where the “love theme” emerged once more in a vertiginous and powerful coda.

Dudamel brought out the richness of the score and the orchestra played with exquisite sound and balance. Performances of Turangalîla are rare and this occasion was quite an experience.