WORKS: Quatuor pour la fin du temps
PERFORMER: Olivier Messiaen (piano), Jean Pasquier (violin), André Vacellier (clarinet), Étienne Pasquier (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 461 744-2 ADD mono Reissue (1956)
With the composer at the piano and the cellist who was with him in Stalag VIIIA, Étienne Pasquier, the long-awaited transfer of this performance might open some ears. It is not definitive in terms of providing a template for other musicians of some perfect, Elysian performance, demonstrating exactly how the music should go. Rather, this disc (as with all of Messiaen’s recordings) serves to broaden the range of interpretative possibilities.
Messiaen does not, for instance, play the repetitive piano figures of the two slow ‘Louange’ movements as a mechanistic, unflinching modernist chugging, but allows a considerable ebb and flow. Remarkably, the same tempo flexibility applies to the fearsome unison rhythms of ‘Danse de la fureur’. Differences
of performance philosophy aside, the beauty of Messiaen’s playing, leaning on a chord here, bringing
out an inner part there, is a joy to behold. There are rough edges, but they are transcended by the
sheer musicality of the whole. Of recent digital accounts, the Amici Ensemble (Naxos) is better than most. For the most musical performance, Messiaen’s recording is currently in a class of its own. Christopher Dingle