First published in the Guardian on 26 October, 2017
Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time
This music emerged from such horror — most of it was written in a WWII camp; the premiere took place in the freezing cold with guards and prisoners as audience — that you might expect overwhelming disconsolation and brutality. Actually the intensely religious Messiaen tapped the sublime. He packed the score with rapture, and that’s the biggest challenge: how to convey the clanging images of the apocalypse without bulldozing the ecstasy. There have been dozens of recordings and none has yet got the balance right across all eight movements. This new one from clarinettist Martin Frost, violinist Janine Jansen, cellist Torlief Thedeen and pianist Lucas Debargue comes the closest I’ve heard. The playing is flawless but still deep-felt, unflinching in the white heat of the Dance of the Fury, intently hushed in the Abyss of the Birds, fervent in the two tender Louanges.