Messiaen: Quatuor pour la fin du temps; Theme and Variations

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Quatuor pour la fin du temps; Theme and Variations
PERFORMER: Amici Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554824
The cause of Messiaen’s music has been served well by Naxos. It has now released most of the piano works, notably Catalogue d’oiseaux, as well as a lively Turangalîla. Importantly, they are all fine performances, if falling short of being first choice. This new version of the Quartet for the End of Time follows the same pattern, with some very impressive moments interspersed with more pedestrian passages. Ensemble movements are finely judged, with the exquisite pianism of Patricia Parr deserving particular praise. There is often plenty of vim and vigour, although the fearsome unison ‘Danse de la fureur’ remains distinctly earthbound. It is only necessary to hear Messiaen’s own performance, which (hallelujah!) has finally been transferred to CD (Accord), to discover how rhythmic accuracy can be combined with flexibility of tempo and a genuine sense of excitement. The ‘Louange’ for cello and piano also provides a pertinent comparison. It may seem unfair to compare the emotional impact of David Hetherington and Parr with that of the composer and his fellow prisoner-of-war, Étienne Pasquier. Nevertheless, the contrast is not simply the product of the ability to draw on the memory of the remarkable premiere in Stalag VIIIA, but also stems from a different performance philosophy producing much greater fluidity. Messiaen’s performance is currently awaiting UK distribution, but is available from France via the internet, while the Naxos account is as good as any of the recent versions. The Theme and Variations is a welcome filler, but I do not want to hear it after the Quartet. Christopher Dingle