Messiaen: Quatuor pour la fin du temps

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Messiaen
LABELS: Arte Nova
WORKS: Quatuor pour la fin du temps
PERFORMER: Ensemble Incanto
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 77076 2
Another month, another couple of recordings of the Quartet for the End of Time. As ever, the performers are earnest in their intentions. As ever, there are some praiseworthy aspects, such as Isabelle Veyrier’s cello-playing, but this work that rarely fails on stage remains frustratingly elusive on disc.

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What prevents both of these accounts from impressing, or at least having the chance to impress, is the poor acoustics. It is a case of extremes. The Ensemble Ader appears to have been recorded in a cardboard box, with sound drier than the Sahara desert and less atmosphere than the moon. By contrast, the Ensemble Incanto is playing in a gigantic bathroom. The solo clarinet movement, ‘Abîme des oiseaux’, is instructive, with the lack of resonance for Philippe Berrod’s long notes (Assai) meaning that they end with the acoustic equivalent of hitting a brick wall. Conversely, for Ralph Manno (Arte Nova) we splat into blancmange as they merge into quicker notes. Not that it is a sweet sound, for the Arte Nova acoustic is acidic and ultimately unpalatable for prolonged listening, while the parched sound of the Assai disc makes it impossible to judge the performance. Alice Ader is a talented pianist, but she might as well be playing a tabletop. Of recent recordings, Oleg Kagan and friends ooze humanity (Live Classics), but the Amici ensemble (Naxos) is the best all-round choice. If you can find it via the internet, however, Messiaen’s own account, flaws and all, is in a different league. Christopher Dingle