Messiaen: Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time)

Messiaen: Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time)

During World War II, while incarcerated in a German prisoner-of-war camp, the French composer Olivier Messiaen met three fellow musicians, a clarinetist, a violinist, and a cellist. And it’s for this unusual combination (plus his own instrument, the piano) that he wrote the Quartet for the End of Time. It’s an astonishing work of often transcendent beauty, its very act of creation intended as a way to survive the cruelty of life in the camp and an expression of beauty in the face of horror.    Premiered in January 1941 in front of 5000 prisoners, the work was performed on battered instruments. It’s hard to imagine the impact of Messiaen’s iridescent music on his audience, but contemporary accounts suggest that each and every person in attendance listened in rapt silence. This 2017 recording captures flawless playing in glorious sound from a starry ensemble of international soloists, whether in the dancing impishness of the opening movement or in the sublime finale, “Louange à l’immortalité de Jésus,” in which Janine Jansen’s violin drifts slowly to the very top of its register—one of Messiaen’s most intensely spiritual moments.

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