MESSIAEN Fantasie. Quartet for the End of Time
This issue contains a genuine rarity – Messiaen’s 1933 violin-and-piano Fantasie – already fully characteristic of his earlier manner, yet unpublished until 2007.
Ensemble Nordlys give a deeply considered performance of the Quartet. They pay close attention to the composer’s indications of tempo and dynamics, and play with concentrated commitment. In the opening ‘Liturgie de cristal’, Viktor Wennesz gives the leading clarinet part a sense of spontaneous flow. And Øystein Sonstad sustains the slow cello line of the ‘Louange à l’éternité de Jésus’ with admirable control and imagination. There are several further high points in the interpretation but I was continually disturbed by problems of balance. Messiaen doesn’t always make it easy – there’s a moment in the seventh movement, for instance, where the piano’s right-hand melody is marked forte while the left hand is piano and the other three instruments are marked pianissimo, and are almost obscured in this recording. However, performers and engineers have on other recordings been able to show such dynamic gradations while enabling each voice to make its effect, as on the 1976 recording by Gawriloff, Deinzer, Palm and Kontarsky.
On this issue, even when there’s a single dynamic for all the players, it’s generally the piano that comes over as too forceful while the strings lack presence. The question arises even in the Thème et variations for violin and piano: when the original melody returns in slow motion, the thunderous piano chords overpower the violin’s high sostenuto. For me, these problems crucially undermine the undoubted qualities of the performances.