Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Precision in the landscape of extinction

Olivier Messiaen: Fantaisie, Theme & Variations, Quatuor pour la fin du temps

Denmark's Ensemble Nordlys provides a lucid and convincing performance of one of the great chamber works of all time, Messiaen's Quartet for the end of time. I've read reviews compaining about the recording balance, but this sounds very good to my (non-audiophile) ears, and I can hear enough of the inner voices to admire the control and precision of the playing of all four musicians.  As William Blake says, "Without minute neatness of execution, the sublime cannot exist!" Listen to the brightness and clarity in the first movement, the Crystal Liturgy:

There couldn't have been much precision at the Quartet's first performance, in Stalag VIII-A, a prisoner-of-war camp in Görlitz, Germany on January 15, 1941, especially as it was played on scrounged instruments, outside in the rain! But consider the second part of Blake's quote: "Grandeur of ideas is founded on precision of ideas." That's the real miracle of this work, that Messiaen could create this art in the fear, cold and privation of his captivity.  Samuel Backett brings us back to that very French virtue: "In the landscape of extinction, precision is next to godliness."

Two substantial, and very interesting, works for violin and piano fill out the disc, which was recorded back in 2013.

No comments:

Post a Comment