WORKS: Quatuor pour la fin du temps; Quatuor pour la naissance
PERFORMER: Joanna MacGregor (piano), Madeleine Mitchell (violin), Christopher van Kampen (cello), David Campbell (clarinet)
CATALOGUE NO: 13932 DDD
This disc couples endings with beginnings. Messiaen wrote his apocalyptic Quartet for the End of Time in 1940 as a prisoner of war in the Nazi camp of Görlitz in Silesia. He gave its first performance in January 1941 with three camp inmates before an audience of thousands of freezing French, Belgian and Polish prisoners.
Joanna MacGregor and her colleagues present an interpretation which is, in parts, very impressive. Christopher van Kampen’s seemingly endless cello solo in the fifth movement, ‘Louange à l’éternité de Jésus’, is compelling, wonderfully coloured and sustained, avoiding any hint of slushiness. MacGregor, too, brings marvellous sensitivity to the deceptively simple punctuating chords, providing a palpable sense of line. Campbell and Mitchell seem less sure of their vision. A reverberant balance occasionally undermines the grimness, particularly in the ‘Danse de la fureur’, but does provide a cradle for the demanding solo movements.
The Polish composer Zygmunt Krauze celebrated the birth of his first child in 1985 with his Quatuor pour la naissance. Although written for the same combination of instruments as the Messiaen, Krauze’s quartet emphasises the piano (his own instrument) in a work that is largely lyrical, unsettled only by a recurring rhythmic tick. A disc worth owning. Annette Morreau