Messiaen's monumental Transfiguration
is a massive, hugely compelling 100-minute work for chorus, orchestra, and seven featured instruments. Its structure mirrors the mystical composer's interest in number symbolism. Transfiguration
is in two main parts, each made up of seven sections: two quotations from St. Matthew relating the story of Jesus and his followers at the mountaintop, each followed by two meditations and a closing chorale. The choral texts are lavishly accompanied with brilliant orchestral elaborations, shot through with colors of light through a percussion array featuring marimba and vibraphone, with extensive roles for solo winds, piano, and cello.
The gripping opening, with its gongs and bells, introduces an oriental flavor that speaks of great mysteries to come. The rest of the score is as exotically inventive, with long, slow melodies; Messiaen's trademark birdsong; Tibetan chant; and orchestral passages of quiet, delicate beauty as well as violent brass and percussion-led eruptions. It's a masterpiece, and it gets a first-rate performance from Myung-Whun Chung and his forces. Chung has made several acclaimed recordings of Messiaen's music, and this may be the best of all, with terrific choral and orchestral work that draws you into the composer's unique sound world. --Dan Davis