Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Simon Rattle

Messiaen: Éclairs sur l'Au-delà...

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If any conductor can be trusted to bring out the shimmering colors, textural depths, and profound majesty of Olivier Messiaen's late masterpiece Éclairs sur l'au-delà..., then confidence in Sir Simon Rattle certainly is well-placed. Approaching this massive work with acute precision in its smallest parts, yet ever mindful of the music's cosmic dimensions, Rattle leads the expanded Berlin Philharmonic in an exacting yet sweeping performance. The consistency of the large ensemble is remarkable, particularly in the processional of wind choirs in "Apparition du Christ glorieux," in the elaborate counterpoint of birdsongs in "Plusieurs Oiseaux des arbres de Vie," and in the sublime string textures of "Demeurer dans l'amour" and "Le Christ, lumière du Paradis." Yet there are many delicate details that demonstrate Rattle's meticulousness and sensitivity to color, especially in the ringing changes of "La constellation du Sagittaire" and the quicksilver exchanges of "L'Oiseaux-lyre et la Ville-fiancée." Only the recorded sound is less than ideal, perhaps too spacious and resonant for Messiaen's most complicated passages to be heard clearly. Even so, this challenging work has had few great performances, and Rattle's excellent rendition is only surpassed by Myung-Whun Chung's brilliant reading with the Orchestre de l'Opéra Bastille on Deutsche Grammophon, which also offers superior sound.

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