REVIEW:Classical Messiaen Premiere / Concert a Quatre The Barbican, London

'His freshness of vision allows him to illuminate yet again the aspects of the natural world which had proved a life-long fascination'
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The Independent Culture
When Olivier Messiaen died three years ago he left incomplete a joyous and touching orchestral work, Concert a Quatre. It was conceived as a tribute to five great musicians who had served his music loyally and inspirationally over the years, his wife the pianist Yvonne Loriod, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, oboist Heinz Holliger, flautist Catherine Cantin and conductor Myung-Whun Chung. Unfortunately, the need to meet a deadline with his New York Philharmonic commission Eclairs sur l'Au- Dela prevented him from composing the last of the five movements he had planned, and left other parts to be completed by Yvonne Loriod. Even so, what we heard at its British premiere in the Barbican centre on Thursday was a half-hour-long work of tender feeling and characteristically vigorous invention.

Hardly a concerto in the traditional sense, the work presents further chapters in the composer's great catalogue of birds, featuring the soloists as obbligato players in its sequence of four-tone poems. Much of the music harks back to earlier days: the harmonic world of Poemes pour Mi, composed over 50 years ago, is in evidence and the ecstatic dancing of Turangalila- symphonie, while the second movement is an exquisite orchestration of his early Vocalise for voice and piano.

The musical symbols will have been familiar to anyone conversant with the composer's style: New Zealand's Grey Warbler chattering away on three xylophones and piano, the mystery of nature in quiet gong strokes and magically chiming bells, and a dawn chorus of an ad libitum cadenza for the four soloists in the fourth movement. But if all of this suggests that the mixture was as before, it must be said that Messiaen's characteristic freshness of vision allows him to illuminate yet again those aspects of the natural world which had proved a life-long fascination.

The performance by Loriod, Paul Edmund-Davies, flute, Roy Carter, oboe, and Tim Hugh, cello, with the London Symphony Orchestra under Kent Nagano was a devoted one, and in response to the audience's applause, Vocalise was given a second airing, reinforcing one's opinion of its affecting lyricism.

After the interval, Nagano directed a high-tensioned and brilliant performance of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, in which the orchestra brought a dazzling virtuosity to bear upon the work's revolutionary invention. The ultimate in speed, precision and attack was demanded during the final cavortings of the "Witches Sabbath", and the orchestral response was electrifying, while the more delicate invention of the "Reveries" that open the symphony was no less finely addressed. If anything was missing from this exuberant interpretation, it was a sense of genuine symphonic breadth during the first movement. Nagano seemed so intent upon urging the music forward that the passion seemed a little breathless rather than powerfully focused. Still, this was an interpretation to excite and unnerve, doubtless one of Berlioz's prime intentions.

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