In the 75th anniversary year of its first performance, the French composer Olivier Messiaen’s only symphony Turangalîla was the focus of the concluding evening of the London Symphony Orchestra’s residency at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival. In fact, it made up half of their programme in Edinburgh; the Orchestra’s two performances earlier in the second week were joined by two discrete events here, Turangalîla itself, and this preceding series of orchestral pieces which illustrated the influences which played upon Messiaen. After opening with the short ‘Fanfare from La Péri’ by Paul Dukas, one of Messiaen’s tutors – and despite his own protestation that “conductors talk too much” – the LSO’s outgoing music director (and incoming conductor emeritus) Sir Simon Rattle gave a very insightful personal introduction to Turangalîla, this “astonishing, wild, brilliant, over-the-top masterpiece”.
In conversation with Nicola Benedetti, who was full of admiration for Rattle’s work and his offered support when she was announced as EIF director, he told the audience the second of the works played here, fellow Dukas’ student Darius Milhaud’s ‘La creation du monde’, was the first classical-jazz composition, before even Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’.
After a short break, the full orchestra returned for the centrepiece of the first performance, Claude Debussy’s ‘La Mer’, a striking rendition in which the physical power of the sea, as represented by the music, appeared apparent in the physical movement of the Orchestra themselves. Every ebb and flow of the surf was mirrored by a sea of bow arms rising and falling, the sound crashing and then contained again, a sublime taster of what was to follow later in the evening.