Messiaen magic meets an ode to misery at Townsville’s annual classical extravaganza.

Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time
Beethoven arr LisztSymphony No 9 in D minor (Finale)
Strauss arr Ledger Four Last Songs
Townsville Civic Theatre, July 29

It is a progressive festival that kicks off with a work as spiritually and musically complex as Quartet for the End of Time.But the message and intent of such an opening statement is clear: Messiaen’s masterpiece  serves as an emblem for the triumph of chamber music. He composed and premiered it in 1941 as a prisoner of war in a German camp – where it must have felt as though time had stopped – and played the piano part on a rickety instrument with missing keys while internees and their captors huddled together, transfixed. It is arguably the most profound and arresting meditation in music on God and the apocalypse.

For its opening act, the Australian Festival of Chamber Music drew together four musicians of astonishing virtuosity and discipline. Michael Collins’ extended clarinet solo, the  Abyssmovement, demonstrated his edge-of-your-seat dynamic and breath control: long-held crescendos swelling from nothingness into full strength. The clarinetist, who has previously worked with Messiaen on...