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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Quartet for the End of Time
MELBA MR301132 (77: 38)
Zemlinsky wrote his trio in D Minor, his op. 3, for clarinet, cello, and piano. When he showed it to Johannes Brahms in 1895, the senior composer was seriously impressed with it and suggested that his publisher, Simrock, print it. The publisher, however, asked Zemlinsky to add a violin part that could be substituted for the clarinet if a standard
piano trio wanted to perform it. Zemlinsky did not simply arrange the clarinet part for violin; he wrote a part specifically for the violin and, as a result, created a second trio. On this disc we have the beautiful, crimson-velvet clarinet version. It can make the listener forget today’s cares and mentally drift off into the world that the composer created. The music is a little bit like Brahms, but not so much as to be imitative. The clarinet line is low and brings out the instrument’s woody resonant tones. Svetlana Bogosavljevic’s smooth cello tones compliment them beautifully. The music is propulsive and its rhythms keep the tension present. Below all, however, is the excellent playing of the pianist, Timothy Young, who provides the magic carpet on which the interpretation of this deeply romantic work rides. The most comparable disc is one issued by Naxos in 2008 with clarientist Ernst Ottensamer, cellist Othmar Muller, and pianist Christopher Hinterhuber. Their playing is good if not exceptional, but I do not find it as entrancing as the rendition here.
In 1940, Olivier Messiaen was a prisoner of war in a German camp. It was there that he wrote the
Quartet for the End of Time
. Also in that camp were clarinetist Henri Akoka, violinist Jean le Boulaire, and cellist Etienne Pasquier. Their instruments were in very poor condition. The camp piano even had strings missing, so the composer wrote his music for the notes that could be played. Messiaen did not even have paper and pencil at his disposal, but a sympathetic guard obtained them for him. First, the composer wrote a short trio for the clarinet and strings. Later, he added a piano part, which he played. The quartet was premiered outdoors on a rainy day at Stalag VIII-A in Görlitz, Germany, which is now Zgorzelec, Poland. The composer said of the audience of 400 prisoners and their guards, “Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension.” The finished work that we hear now is in eight movements. First we hear “The Crystal Liturgy,” which reflects flashes of light and tells of the awakening of the birds. David Griffiths’s most capable clarinet is the blackbird and Wilma Smith’s singing violin is the nightingale. In the second movement an angel, swathed in clouds and a rainbow, announces the end of time. The birds then sing of the abyss, of sadness and of weariness. The fourth movement is a rhythmic and melodic interlude for violin and cello, and includes a very difficult clarinet part that Griffiths negotiates extremely well. The outwardly religious fifth movement shows us the graceful playing of cellist Bogosavljevic and pianist Young. “The Dance of Fury for Seven Trumpets” contains some of Messiaen’s most interesting rhythms. The penultimate movement is called “Tangle of Rainbows for the Angel who Announces the End of Time.” It is a dream vision of color and sound that precedes the finale, “Praise to the Immortality of Jesus.”
There are other recordings of this work, but some of them are not very satisfying. The 1989 RCA recording with Tashi was transferred from vinyl to CD with a loss of quality. The 1990 Deutsche Grammophon with Daniel Barenboim has a few sound problems as well. Thus, the present disc is a very good choice for today’s listener to these wonderfully thoughtful works.
FANFARE: Maria Nockin
Works on This Recording
Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in D minor, Op. 3 by Alexander von Zemlinsky
Timothy Young (Piano),
Svetlana Bogosavljevic (Cello),
David Griffiths (Clarinet)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1895; Vienna, Austria
Quatuor pour la fin du temps by Olivier Messiaen
Wilma Smith (Violin),
David Griffiths (Clarinet),
Svetlana Bogosavljevic (Cello),
Timothy Young (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1940; Silesia, Poland
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Two Chamber works for Clarinet - a masterpiece by July 11, 2012
By R. Moon (Walnut Creek, CA) See All My Reviews
"In his excellent program notes, Marc Moskovitz reveals that the title of this disc comes from the biographical similarities of Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942) and Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992). Both composers came from literary families, both fathers encouraged their musical interests, and both were trapped in the Nazi maelstrom of World War II, and both emerged, like a lotus flower from the muddy depths to fashion careers of musical distinction.
Messiaens Quartet for the End of Time (1940-1) was the perfect vehicle to express the profound faith of its composer and his musical innovations. Messiaen was serving as a medical orderly in 1940 when he was captured by the Nazis and sent to Stalag VIII A, a prisoner camp in Germany. Sympathetic German officers allowed him to compose a work for his musician prisonercolleagues, who played the clarinet, violin, cello and piano. The premiere took place in the dead of winter, 1941, before several hundred prisoners and Nazi officials, who must have been dumbfounded and amazed. Imagine hearing a work that had a solo clarinet mimicking bird sounds, uneven rhythms, meditative moment, and the unusual combination of clarinet, violin, cello and piano, in the setting of a concentration camp! The inspiration for the work comes from the tenth chapter of the New Testaments Book of Revelation, which Messiaen used to sustain his spirit during the first few months of deprivation in the camp. The phrase, There will be no more waiting, was attached to the work and refers to the difference between time, as we know it, and eternity. Its an appropriate title, given the circumstances of the works creation, and one linked to Messiaens profound belief in God.
In the first movement, Crystal Liturgy, The Ensemble Liaison doesnt soften the piano enough, missing the misty early morning silence of heaven the composer suggests. In the second movement, Vocalise for the Angel that Announces the End of Time, the contrast between the dissonant chords at beginning and end, and the ethereal strings, are somewhat diminished by the reverberant acoustics. Clarinetist David Griffiths is stunning in the Abyss of the Birds. The intermezzo and following movement must have seemed like a sorbet before the main meal, as melody and unison playing predominate. The performers are at their best in the fifth movement, Praise of the Eternity of Jesus, where the rich, reverberant recording multiplies its stunning beauty. Dance of Fury for the Seven Trumpets is gorgeously performed, but there is a lack of dynamic contrast and speed between different sections in this movement. The Seventh movement, Clusters of Rainbows, For the Angel Who Announces the End of Time, is played with an inviting sense of whimsy. The finale, Praise of the Immortality of Jesus is an apotheosis to ecstasy, and here, is played with passion and reverence. Messiaens brilliance in transforming objects (birds, colors, nature) into a musical language that express his deep love for God and humanity, while a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, makes the Quartet for the End of Time one of the great chamber music compositions. The Ensemble Liasons performance may not always portray some of the subtle and darker elements of the work, but it is beautifully rendered and stunningly recorded.
The twenty five year old Zemlinsky, steeped in the classical tradition of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, and, influenced by Brahms Clarinet Trio of 1891, wrote his Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano (1896) for a competition underwritten by Brahms. Its a ripe, late Romantic work with lovely melodies (especially the bittersweet andante) and notable counterpoint, yet ultimately derivative of Dvorak and Brahms. The Ensemble Liason performs it leisurely in the Brahmsian tradition. Zemlinsky became Schoenbergs only teacher, and an excellent conductor, especially of modern scores (he was Klemperers assistant at the radical Kroll Opera in pre Nazi Berlin). But, he composed large, sumptuous orchestral works (Lyric Symphony). He also had an affair with Alma Schindler, who rejected him for Gustav Mahler. Zemlinsky fled the Nazi regime in 1938, landed in America, where he died alone and forgotten.
This is a superbly produced and recorded album that will captivate clarinet aficionados.
This album was previously reviewed on Audiophile Audition.