First published in the Guardian on 14 April, 2017
Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time etc
Krakauer/ Haimovitz/Crow/ Burleson/ Socalled (Pentatone)
Cellist Matt Haimovitz and clarinettist David Krakauer met at a klezmer gathering in Canada and discovered a shared intrigue in Henri Akoka — the Algerian-born Sephardic Jewish clarinettist who premiered Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time at a WW2 prisoner of war camp. In a tribute project called Akoka, they frame Messiaen’s masterpiece with improvisations and a woeful electronic remix by Montreal “beat architect” Socalled (bits of the Quartet layered up with archive radio broadcasts, hip hop rhythms and Sephardic cantorial singing). The multi-faith angle could be interesting — Messiaen’s technicolour catholicism dominates most readings of the Quartet, so a klezmer-style vibrato in the solo clarinet movement, for example, is a valid perspective. And the performance of the Quartet proper is generally classy, especially the immensely expressive and gentle playing of violinist Jonathan Crow. But the add-ons are dire, and doubly so given they segue straight in and out of the Messiaen leaving no room for escape.