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Fanfare 4th review for Amazon 4/5 Stars

May 30, 2022

Allison Eck

Amazon review: “Refreshing rendition of a haunting piece,” 4/5 stars

MESSIAEN Quatour pour la Fin du Temps  Christina Åstrand, vn; Johnny Teyssier (cl); Henrik Dam Thomsen (vc); Per Salo (pn)  OUR 6.220679 (47:02)
I began listening to this recording of Messiaen’s Quatour pour la Fin du Temps during a period of intense new fascination with birds—springtime, as well as the influence of friends who were already engaged in birding as a hobby, inspired me to get outdoors with my binoculars and Merlin Bird ID app in search of our feathery neighbors.
One aspect of birdsong that I’ve spent a fair amount of time contemplating during these excursions has been its complexity. Slow down a bird’s warbling and you’ll find near infinite recesses of tone and texture. Fittingly, Messiaen’s masterwork is not just a meditation on time and space in the human realm (he was “writing for eternity,” according to the prologue by Jens Christian Grøndahl), but within the avian world, as well.
It’s tempting to ask at the outset of the Quartet for the End of Time whether the clarinetist has satisfactorily pulled off mimicking a blackbird (and likewise, whether the violinist has convincingly portrayed a nightingale). For example, in many versions of this piece, most notably the highly regarded recording by the Tashi Quartet, the clarinet presents as more unhinged and erratic—terrifying, even—than it is in this one.
But a side-by-side analysis of each clarinetist’s interpretation perhaps misses the point. The more interesting question is: Does the music amount to more than just noodling? If stretched out, would it retain the same intracity and nuance? I’m inclined to say that the answer in this case is yes. Johnny Teyssier’s performance his subtle and demonstrates a wonderful facility, adding a sweet character to the blackbird’s song and illuminating that infinite space Messiaen longed for.
Another example of tremendous musicianship: Henrik Dam Thomsen’s gorgeous and insistent lament in the fifth movement, a favorite amongst cellists. And in the sixth movement, (Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes), the musicians opt for a resonant sense of unity over fury, at least initially—a choice that might have contributed to the effectiveness of the increase in momentum and overall agitation toward the end of the movement.
Wrapping up the recording is an absolutely lovely final movement, in which Per Salo on piano provides a deliberate accompaniment to Christina Astrand’s soaring violin solo. Salo punctuates his commentary differently each time, making it a thoughtful finale to one of the more challenging works in the chamber music repertoire. I recommend this version of the quartet for its purity and clarity; if you’re looking for something a bit more iconic and edgy, I would try the Tashi recording or the 1991 Warner Classics recording featuring clarinetist Wolfgang Meyer and cellist Manuel Fischer-Dieskau. Allison Eck, Fanfare May 31th 2022
Amazon review: “Refreshing rendition of a haunting piece,” 4/5 stars