This much is certain. There was never the slightest hint of vulgarity in the enthralling Los Angeles Philharmonic performance of “Turangalila” that Susanna Mälkki conducted Thursday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall. She took at face value all of Messiaen and made it purposeful.
“Mälkki’s “Turangalila” did kind of seem forever. Maybe it was the sheer forcefulness and clarity of the performance. The work has lost neither its audacity not its quaintness, especially in its use of the ondes martenot, the 1928 electronic instrument that is essentially a theremin with a keyboard. Messiaen uses it much of the time to add a viscous voluptuousness to texture of his love music that Cynthia Miller’s ondes martenot helped come as close to sonic pornography as the composer clearly desired. Mälkki let that be, just as she let the dance music achieve its ecstasy.
But she also paid decisive attention to the birdsong of the piano solos, brilliantly conveyed by Jean Yves Thibaudet, as she did to Messiaen’s gamelan-colorful percussion section. Monuments were monuments, made massive by the brass. Clarinets unfolded flowers.
Put it all together, with the ferocity and feeling of the exceptional L.A. Phil, and the symphony stops making sense the way joy stops making sense. Indeed, mapping the progress of “Turangalila” though its 70-year history, the loss of vulgarity appears to closely coincide with joy’s accrual. What does that say about our time that we may be missing?”
“If there was a defining aspect to Mälkki’s performance, it was her ability to combine an immense sense of orchestral grandeur with perfectly defined metric precision. Massive forte outbursts were atmospherically balanced by instrumental subtlety and coloration.”