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Fanfare 5th review 5 Stars

June 2, 2022

Marc Medwin

Fanfare 5
Five stars: A gorgeous version of an old favorite

MESSIAEN Quatuor pour la Fin Du Temps • Christina Åstrand (vn); Johnny Teyssier (cl); Henrik Dam Thomsen (vc); Per Salo (pn) • OUR 6.220679

Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps draws on its various contexts in ways both familiar and unique, occupying a point of definition in the then-young composer’s oeuvre. While it quotes from and literally incorporates some of his earliest organ music in the final movement, the first foregrounds his life-long attachment to birdsong, albeit in an embryonic form. The harmonic language is both indebted to Debussy and estranged from that influence. In this new recording on the estimable Our Recordings, clarinetist Johnny Teyssier, Per Salo, violinist Christina Åstrand and cellist Henrik Dam Thomsen bring both youthful vigor and a surprising beauty to a score already well-served on record.
One of the disc’s most breathtaking moments is in the opening bars of Abîme Des Oiseaux, a virtuosic piece for solo clarinet. What Messiaen refers to as the Boris Godunov motive, used throughout his career, is played in a gorgeous pianissimo, filled with the abiding sense of the sadness the composer describes in his preface. Teyssier slowly builds, disassembles and rebuilds the flowing lines and jagged phrases, a perfect unity in diversity, certainly the temporal totality imagined by Messiaen. Åstrand inhabits a similarly reflective space in the final movement, and while I have heard slower performances, there is no doubting the dedication she and Salo bring to this slowly evolving utterance, rapturous right up to the reverently hushed final evocation. I have also heard more overtly fiery readings of Danse de la Fureur, pour les Sept Trompettes, but the ensemble saves its vehemence for the mighty conclusion. It would also be difficult to imagine contrasting repetitive structures being played with more coherent unisons and a more beautiful sound than they are here. In fact, the only modern version equal to this in purity of ensemble sound and attention to detail is the recent and very different one from Apartment House, on Another Timbre. The acoustic and Our Recordings’ production provide just the right amount of atmosphere, especially on Thomsen’s cello. Just luxuriate in his take on the sumptuous fifth movement to hear a wonderful synergy of recording and ambiance, Salo once again a wonderful collaborator as his chords elongate and melt, seeming to defy the steady pulse he is establishing.
This version of Messiaen’s early masterpiece contains liner notes unlike any I’ve seen. Most descriptions of the work’s well-known genesis in a prison camp present it all from a distance. Writer Jens Christian Grondahl emotes as much as recounts, his prose inhabiting a timeless present to match the music, entering into the performers’ psychologies, actions and emotions with stunningly simple fluidity. To read his prose-poetry brings heartbreaking inspiration similar to that of the performance, and the whole package is now one of the finest versions on record. Marc Medwin June 3th 2022