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In The Details

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
07/21/2000 -  
Olivier Messiaen: Turangalila Symphonie
Valerie Hartmann-Claverie (ondes Martenot)
Andreas Haefliger (piano)
New York Philharmonic
Hans Vonk (conductor)

The "classical" part of the Lincoln Center Festival ended last evening with a performance of that most celebrated work of Olivier Messiaen, a piece now considered mainstream even though it is filled with an exoticism quite jarring to the ears of its era. Unfortunately this mini-retrospective did not end with a great reading of the Turangalila and this is a shame because Messiaen labored so hard to expose his God for all to see, if only the individual moments could be communicated properly. Although there was the requisite amount of perspiration, what seemed to be missing was that small percentage of inspiration.

Sloppiness at the outset spoiled the attention grabbing opening of the work and, although Vonk labored to set a jazzy tenor to his interpretation, not all of the musicians, many of whom are summer "covers", seemed to be in sync with either his aesthetic or his downbeat. The elements of a good performance were consistently on display, the pianist hitting all of the notes (no small feat in this case) and the percussion section creating a sonic wrap of the hall, but there was never a sense of the primordial energy that propels this amazing essay forward into eternity. Only Valerie Hartmann-Claverie was exceptional, her touch on the electronic keyboard belying the notion that there is an unfordable emotional gap between woman and machine. Vonk was tentative in many spots and interpreted both cataclysmic crescendi (one at the mid-point; one the end) with a heavy hand, not starting quietly enough to distinguish these signposts as especially significant.

I have heard three Turangalilas live recently and at two (including last night's) people walked out at the end of every movement (ten movements thus producing a fairly empty hall by work's end). However, when Seiji Ozawa led the BSO at Carnegie, not only did no one exit the proceedings, there was a noticeable bond amongst us all, more a congregation than an audience. The orgiastic and cathartic qualities being absent at Lincoln Center left only an interesting shell, to be admired for its surface beauty, but, sadly, not to be worshipped.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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