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Lutoslawski & Messiaen

Lutoslawski Piano Concerto *
Messiaen Turangalila-Symphonie **

London Symphony Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
Sergey Babayan piano *
Joanna MacGregor piano **
Cynthia Millar ondes martenot **

Barbican Hall 13 May 2010

We found this a greatly disappointing concert. The Lutoslawski concerto seemed to be efficiently prepared and delivered but, on this rehearing 20 years on, unlikely to make its way onto the regular repertoire when Lutoslawski gets back again onto the concerts prorammes lists, where he certainly deserves a regular place.

Turangalila is a megolamanic cult work which has always divided commentators - "Love it or loathe it" (MusicOMH) - but it can still fill a hall with those who are seduced by sheer size.

The reaction of critics at the work’s first performances was a mixture of bafflement, hostility and, just occasionally, admiration. I found it (as originally at the Royal Festival Hall on April 1954, conducted by Walter Goehr and occasionally since) repugnant for its length and repetitiveness.

Facing it again, I could only get through its c.80 mins by identifying with Joanna MacGregor demonstrating her marvellous pianism (our seats close behind her), her relaxation making possible coping with its super-human demands, even turning her own pages - hard enough without having to play the music too - and seemingly fresh at the end. Her alto-ego at the ondes martenot produced hideous screeching sounds, which placed the whole thing back in its pre-electronics period place.

And for those of you who have read thus far, Gergiev's Turangalila was being recorded for LSO Live, to add to his discography and to the choice of a dozen or so CD versions currently available...

One could not fail to ponder the costs of this enterprise at so fraught a financial situation for the country; perhaps, in order to re-assess this grandiose creation, someone should try to make a reduction of Turangalila for piano and small ensemble, as in the days of Schoenberg's Society for Private Musical Performances, and next time give it at Wigmore Hall; as was done successfully with Mahler's 4th in March.

Peter Grahame Woolf