Messiaen: Quatuor pour la fin du Temps; Fantaisie; Le merle noir; Pièce; Morceau de lecture à vue

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COMPOSERS: Messiaen
LABELS: Signum
ALBUM TITLE: Messiaen
WORKS: Quatuor pour la fin du Temps; Fantaisie; Le merle noir; Pièce; Morceau de lecture à vue
PERFORMER: Matthew Schellhorn (piano); Soloists of the Philharmonia Orchestra
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 126

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Matters are getting complicated for anyone wanting recordings of Messiaen’s chamber music. The Hebrides Ensemble’s recent disc (Linn) gives everything, but their performance of the Quartet for the end of Time is below par. Now Matthew Schellhorn is joined by soloists from the Philharmonia Orchestra in a better account of the Quartet, and fine performances of other works, including a marvellous performance of the recently rediscovered Fantaisie for violin and piano, but, bizarrely, the Thème et variations is omitted. On the other hand, the disc also has the first recording of Morceau de lecture à vue, an utterly charming sight-reading piece from 1934. Schellhorn naturally passes the test with flying colours, though his clouds of pedal will not be to all tastes. This performance of the Quartet is fairly strong, with playing by turns poetic and dramatic. The tempos are generally on the fast side, which is not a problem in itself, but ‘Liturgie de cristal’ and, crucially, the cello ‘Louange’ sound hurried. The fearsome ‘Danse de la fureur’ is unusually lithe and, as a result, thrilling, and, if the trilling climax of the seventh movement’s rainbows would ideally be a little more cataclysmic, it is still compelling. Schellhorn’s playing is a major asset, though his touch is a little too subtle in the final ‘Louange’, the piano rhythm losing its judder unless heard at a high volume. As with other recent Messiaen discs, it’s a pity that the fillers have been placed after the main work: surely no one wants to hear Le merle noir barely ten seconds after the Quartet. Christopher Dingle