Messiaen's La Transfiguration
is a massive, complex, uncompromising work, embracing an extraordinary episode in the life of Christ with many of the composer's trademarks--from the familiar birdsong (a truly cosmopolitan array here) and the fantastical echoes of Asian music, to the more specifically liturgical Catholic sounds. The vast tonal range represents a world in itself, and this Radio France recording has the clarity and vividness which, combined with Messiaen's fantastical orchestration, make for something of a sonic spectacular.
The light that blazed at Christ's transfiguration blazes through the work, coloured by the sense of the ecstatic that lay behind Messiaen's religious sensibility. Fine though this rare recording is, conductor Myung-Whun Chung doesn't consistently uncover that ecstasy. The slow-striding nature of so much of La Transfiguration doesn't preclude the need for more fantasy, fluidity and truly gripping sense of drama and awe than we find here. The transfiguration was, after all, a surreal event. The vital role of the Choir of Radio France typifies this reservation. The singers do an excellent job in many respects, but all those slow-moving unison choral lines don't just sing themselves--they need to be smitten with Messiaen's intense spiritual vision. Still a welcome, recommendable release.--Andrew Green