Birthed in a prisoner-of-war camp during World War II, Olivier Messiaen’s Book of Revelations-inspired Quartet for the End of Time is weighted with spiritual and corporeal gravitas. In this new recording on Sony, clarinettist Martin Fröst, pianist Lucas Debargue, cellist Torleif Thedéen and violinist Janine Jansen compellingly bring out the drama and subtle shading of Messiaen’s music, if not always the composer’s sense of the infinite.

Fröst’s clarinet has presence in the opening Liturgie de cristal against the string harmonics. There’s a beautiful depth to the sonic texture here, a sense of both distance and clarity to what Messiaen described as “a halo of trills lost very high in the trees” before the piano crash of Vocalise, pour l’Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps pulls the listener back to earth. The quiet passages between Jansen, Thedéen and Debargue in this movement are sublime.

Fröst’s inky tone slinks in and out of nothingness in a stunning Abîme des oiseaux – the bright bird-calls have a crystalline twinkle while the echo figures teeter thrillingly on the edge of silence.

Thedéen gives his cello line a greater lyricism in Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus – in flowing duet with Debargue – than the hauntingly spare rendition delivered by Anner Bijlsma on Philips in 1980. With his full, vibrato-rich tone, Thedéen’s pull back to pianissimo is all the more dramatic, but there is less of a nod to the movement’s ondes-martenot origins and the music presses forward more than might be implied by “infiniment lent, extatique”.

The Intermède and Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes have a lively, precise energy and there’s a convincing crispness to Debargue’s piano in Fouillis d’arcs-en-ciel, pour l’Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps.

Jansen keeps the music moving in Louange à l’Immortalité de Jésus, her finely spun violin lines blossoming and receding, unafraid – deftly supported by Debargue’s piano heartbeat – to create the softest of sounds in a finale that won’t fail to give the listener goosebumps.

Composer: Messiaen
Composition: Quartet for the End of Time
Performer: Martin Fröst cl, Lucas Debargue p, Torleif Thedéen vc, Janine Jansen v
Catalogue Number: Sony 88985363102

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