Lost and found

MUSIC Messiaen premiere RFH, London
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
It was in 1945, with the war coming to a close and Paris already liberated, that Messiaen initiated a trilogy of works based on the Tristan myth that were - in their heady mix of hedonism, vulgarity and spirituality, intimately linked with arcane and rigorous compositional processes - to have a far-reaching effect on both the more doctrinaire young modernists and those who sought a means of expression unrestricted by narrow avant- gardism.

The BBCSO under Andrew Davis gave two works from this trilogy, Cinq Rechants and Turangalla-symphonie, at the Festival Hall on Wednesday. They also included the UK premiere of another Messiaen work, the virtually unknown Chant des Dports, also dating from 1945.

After the war, Messiaen was asked by Radio France for a short choral- orchestral piece to celebrate the liberation of the camps and the return of the prisoners. Messiaen himself had, of course, been interned for two years in Silesia, and had written his Quartet for the End of Time there. What more suitable composer could be imagined? But the resulting work was mislaid after its premiere, and only rediscovered - in the Radio France library - in 1991. Touching as are the circumstances of its composition, however, there is little in the music itself to raise it above the level of an occasional commission dutifully fulfilled.

Messiaen's own text dwells on pain, death and ecstasy in a typical celebratory amalgam, and his setting delivers it as an extended chorale with a harmony and melody very characteristic of his work at the time. Over and around it, the orchestra weaves a dense tapestry of lines that proceed with little variation. It is a chip off a workbench that was later to see such textures employed to more varied symphonic ends.

As in Turangalla, which was played with exuberant virtuosity by Davis and a vastly augmented BBCSO, graced by Messiaen's widow, and prime interpreter, Yvonne Loriod at the piano, and her sister Jeanne at the ondes martenot. The energy with which its vast, multifarious structure was delivered was prodigious.

As for the Cinq Rechants that opened the concert, Simon Joly and the BBC Singers' concentratedly expressive account set standards of virtuosity and commitment that were to be sustained throughout the evening.