Notes and Editorial Reviews
Quartet for the End of Time.
Theme and Variations
Raphaël Pidoux (vc);
Pascal Moraguès (cl);
Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabèdian (vn);
Vincent Coq (pn)
HARMONIA MUNDI 901987 (62:27)
This newly recorded performance of Messiaen’s chamber masterpiece is now my favorite, for a purely personal reason: it strikes me as taking a distinctly secular approach. For instance, the highly emotive yearning quality of Raphaël Pidoux’s cello in the fifth movement suggests the desperate longing for freedom of a prisoner-of-war. (The work was premiered in a POW camp during World War II, as you probably know.) There is a natural earthiness to the birdsong in the first movement, while an edge of very human fury underlies the attack from all four musicians in the rhythmically tricky unison sixth movement. Similarly, the haunting exploratory quality of Moraguès’s clarinet solo in the long third movement seems rooted in the mysteries of the natural world (rather than the supernatural). These impressions are the result of the quartet’s razor-sharp ensemble and forceful dynamics, a joy throughout, reinforced by the closeness and clarity of the recording.
What is missing is a sense of pious wonder that permeates some performances, but that suits me fine. I only appreciate Messiaen in terms of his musicality, because the intense Catholic mysticism that so inspired the composer (and is evident in most of the movement titles) provokes in me an equally intense revulsion. For an avowed atheist, it is impossible to get enthusiastic about
L’éternité de Jésus
, etc.; fortunately, in this case, I need not give religious dogma a moment’s thought.
I can imagine that for more devout listeners this performance might disappoint because of its in-your-face character—although for musical execution it could hardly be bettered. I would send them to find a copy of the less aggressive but magnificently played performance by Tashi with clarinettist Richard Stolzman, recorded in 1975 for RCA.
The members of Trio Wanderer—as the group sans clarinetist calls itself—have been working together for over 20 years, and have made a number of highly praised recordings for Harmonia Mundi and other labels. (Their rendition of the two piano trios by Shostakovich is well worth acquiring.) The trio’s violinist and pianist conclude this disc with Messiaen’s short Theme and Variations, composed at the age of 24 for himself and his first wife to play. It is less compelling than the
, and this committed but rather plain performance fails to make very much out of it. Phillips-Varjabèdian and Coq are out-played and out-pointed by Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich, wonderfully responsive and mercurial in a mixed “modern” DG program from 1990.
Nevertheless, this disc is strongly recommended for the Quartet, particularly to those music-lovers who are firmly rooted in the here and now.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
Works on This Recording
Quatuor pour la fin du temps by Olivier Messiaen
Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian (Violin),
Pascal Moraguès (Clarinet),
Vincent Coq (Piano),
Raphaël Pidoux (Cello)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1940; Silesia, Poland
Length: 50 Minutes 31 Secs.
Quatuor pour la fin du temps: I. Liturgie de cristal
Quatuor pour la fin du temps: II. Vocalise, pour l'Ange qui annonce la fin du temps
Quatuor pour la fin du temps: III. Abîme des oiseaux
Quatuor pour la fin du temps: IV. Intermède
Quatuor pour la fin du temps: V. Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus
Quatuor pour la fin du temps: VI. Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes
Quatuor pour la fin du temps: VII. Fouillis d'arcs-en-ciel, pour l'Ange qui annonce la fin du temps
Quatuor pour la fin du temps: VIII. Louange à l'Immortalité de Jésus
Thème et variations pour violon et piano
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