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★★★★★ – As if to blow away the woozy emotionalism of the Last Night at the Proms, along came the London Symphony Orchestra the very next night with a 75-minute blast of hardcore modern music. Which isn’t to say that Éclairs sur l’Au-delà (Illuminations of the Beyond), the last piece by the great post-war modernist Olivier Messiaen, is some piece of cold modernist mathematising. Far from it. Conductor Simon Rattle told us in his moving pre-concert chat that he once cried through an entire performance (not his own, thank goodness).

Fortunately, he didn’t burst into tears during this performance – he was his usual, super-alert, energized self. But I came close to it myself, more than once. Why? Because this 11-movement meditation on the life after death is such a wonderful, deeply moving summation of Messiaen’s life’s work. It has those huge craggy brass chorales, summoning up the terror of the Last Judgement, it has those piled-up, twittering wood-wind counterpoints, a homage to the birds that he considered “God’s greatest musicians”. And there are those glittering percussions roulades and tremulously ecstatic string chorales, evoking what Messiaen called the “dazzlement” of heaven, and also its sweetness.

Such an apocalyptic vision really needs a huge space to reveal its grandeur; a cathedral, say, or a mountain-top.

Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph,16/09/2019
★★★★★ – a summation of his life’s work. Quotations from the Book of Revelation head many of the movements, and Messiaen envisions the heavenly world through expansive string movements, with muted violins intoning long, plaintive melodies. Huge percussion and brass sections provide weight and colour, though the mood remains serene.

Best of all, the woodwind add birdsong into the mix. Birdsong had been an obsession for the composer throughout his adult life, and in 1988, at the age of 80, he visited Australia for the first time, and was introduced to a whole new continent of birds. For this final orchestral work, he embraced this new resource, transcribing many Australian birdcalls into joyous and raucous choruses. In one movement, flute and clarinet players came out of the orchestra to perform their birdcalls around the audience, a rich and immersive aural experience, all expertly coordinated by Rattle from the podium.

Messiaen eventually achieves closure for this complex aural tapestry, with a final movement scored only for strings accompanied by a light triangle, “Christ, Light of Paradise”. Again, muted violins perform broad, almost static melodies, at the quietest dynamics and with the utmost control of tone and texture. The harmonies are ambiguous, but eventually settle on a consoling consonance, the timing of that final resolution perfectly judged by Rattle and expertly delivered by the LSO strings. Exquisite.

Gavin Dixon,,16/09/2019
★★★★★ – Rattle dispersed the army of flautists and clarinettists amongst the audience. It is a sequence of improvisatory passages where the music’s imposing and palatial architecture finds some flex. The effect was astonishing, as the 18 woodwind soloists – particularly the explosive squalls from E flat clarinets – grew increasingly raucous and lyrically profligate.... the divinity in this music comes from string playing that is unashamedly luxurious, dynamically pliant and deeply sensuous; paradise is here, and it is in our ears...

The world Messiaen describes is one he would never hear in concert because he joined it months after completing this astonishing work. A long silence fell after the final luminous chord, an intense hush affording us all a glimpse of the infinite.

Benjamin Poore,,16/09/2019
★★★★★ – Scored for brass and woodwind - ten flutes, ten clarinets, seven horns, five trombone, assorted bassoons, oboes, trombones, tubas and a single cor anglais - the first chorale in Messiaen 'Eclairs sur l'au dela opens like a heavy bloom. Its petals are waxy and glossy, saturated in tones of purple, indigo and brilliant yellow, and densely harmonized.

Completed in 1991, this was the French composer's final gesture: a companion to Des canyons aux etoiles in terms of scale, structure, astral shimmering and exotic birdsong, but richer in its instrumentation and less grounded in the now than in an imagined afterlife. Faith does not equal serenity but euphoria as the strings describe immense curves of beauty, the percussion thumps and slaps and smacks, and the woodwind chatter and trill and call.

Annd Picard, The Times,16/09/2019
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