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Messiaen: La transfiguration de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ

4.2 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Audio CD, October 8, 2002
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Editorial Reviews

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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

  • Sample this album Artist - Artist (Sample)
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Disc 2
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6
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Conductor: Myung-Whun Chung
  • Composer: Olivier Messiaen
  • Audio CD (October 8, 2002)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Deutsche Grammophon
  • ASIN: B0000630QC
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #153,421 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
In retrospect this huge choral piece seems much more typical of the music Messiaen was writing in the mid-60s than it did at the time of its premiere. The sound world it conjures up is very like that of, say, Et Expecto, Couleurs de la Cite Celeste or Des Cantons aux Etoiles. The major difference is the use of voices. This was Messiaen's first choral piece since the 5 Rechants and the choral style is very different from either that challengingly experimental piece or from the earlier 3 Petites Liturgies - more of a forerunner to St. Francois, in fact. In La Transfiguration the choral writing is largely written in unison for the narrative plainchant-derived sections or in chordal blocks for the many chorale-like passages.

If that sounds monotonous, it is more than made up for in the brilliance of the orchestral writing. Here is a profusion of the composer's beloved birds, taken from all over the world. Here is the glitter of a large batterie of tuned percussion. Here is the special sound only Messiaen had the key to in his brass and woodwind writing. And here is all Messiaen's unique synesthetic (seeing harmonies as colours) approach to slowly shifting chords and keys. Here, too, are love-songs to match the central movement of Turangalila, landscapes to match the vivid pictures in Des Canyons or the Catalogue d'Oiseaux and huge marmoreal chorales to match the equivalent movements in Et Expecto or even Messiaen's last orchestral work, Eclairs sur l'au dela.

What is distinctive about La Transfiguration, as befits its subject, is the way in which Messiaen seems to be exploring ways of writing music as an objective correlative for light.
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Format: Audio CD
This is a challenging piece of music however it is well worth approaching with patience and an open mind. The listener will be rewarded with a truly mind expanding experience. The sense of grace,spirituality and infiniteness that is present in all of Messiaen's work is performed by Myung-Whun Chung & Co. to awe inspiring effect. The choral performances are first rate as are the orchestral passages. This is truly music that transcends itself and I recommend it to anyone who wishes to take a leap and increase their understanding of what music can be.
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Format: Audio CD
I adore Messiaen's music but somehow this work doesn't hit the mark with me. It seems too episodic... Yes I know that Messiaen's music is built from juxtaposing blocks (say, birdsong solo on piano, stately gorgeous chords from the orchestra, etc) and this works well with the ensemble & orchestral pieces. So perhaps it's something to do with this being the first choral piece written since the Cinq Rechants. I can't put my finger on it (perhaps I am looking for a narrative flow) but the cumulative effect just doesn't happen here for me despite all the symmetry and symbolism of 7.

However I cannot fault the gorgeous sound or the committed performance here, but I think I prefer to turn to his massive opera St Francis of Assisi for spiritual nourishment, and for a better example of Messiaen's vocal and choral writing.
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Format: Audio CD
I haven't heard this performance, but the original 1972 Decca recording with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Westminster Symphonic Choir under Antal Dorati is one of my prized possessions. Talk of this performance being less than representative is silly, since the U.S. premiere under Dorati was (I believe) the 14th presentation of this work, and was done under the close supervision of Messiaen himself (as were they all then). I don't believe he would have stood for a less-than-representative performance of his work, particularly one recorded for posterity.

This work was received with wild enthusiasm at its first performance, and, I believe, at most of its subsequent performances. The first was at the Coliseu in Lisbon as part of the 1969 Gulbenkian Festival. According to Messiaen's diary (as reported by Peter Hill in his wonderful new book) the audience of 9000 (!) applauded for a solid half-hour at the end, and Messiaen was completely overwhelmed.

Anyway, I haven't heard the Chung performance, and I must say that I'm somewhat hesitant to buy it, for the following reasons. First, just based on the Music Sampler snatches here, I don't agree with many of his tempi. They seem to drag a fair bit, and Dorati's reading definitely has more gusto. Secondly (and please bear with me), if you listen specifically to the beginning of the 9th movement (Perfecte conscius illius perfectae generationis), you'll hear a big fat chord of resonance repeated several times followed by a very low note on the trombone (I think, I don't have the score), then that note is repeated with much more force by all the lowest instruments (I'm assuming double bases, saxhorn, contrabass tuba, and some low tam-tams), and this is followed by the baritone male voices one whole note higher.
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