Messiaen: Quatuor pour la fin du temps

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3.5 out of 5 star rating 3.5

LABELS: Live Classics
WORKS: Quatuor pour la fin du temps
PERFORMER: Oleg Kagan (violin), Eduard Brunner (clarinet), Natalia Gutman (cello), Vassily Lobanov (piano)
Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time is one of those elusive pieces that rarely fails in live performance and hardly ever succeeds in recordings. In both cases the apocalyptic subject matter combines with the circumstances of its composition while Messiaen was a prisoner of war in Stalag VIIIa during World War II. The composer would be the first to point out that these are not extra-musical elements, but are intrinsic to the human musical experience. This is, perhaps, where the problem lies, for as soon as the listener is removed from direct proximity with the performers, the intensity of that shared experience is lost.


In this respect there is a lot to be said for a live recording, catching a sense of an event, warts and all. This performance from 1984 has much to commend it, particularly the sublime violin tone of Oleg Kagan. There are the inevitable occasional slips, and the audience members seem to time their rare coughs to coincide with crucial moments, such as the start of the last movement. As with almost all accounts, there is an inability to sustain flexibility of tempo without losing the sense of the rhythms, but this disc has heaps more humanity than most rivals. Christopher Dingle