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Discussion: Messiaen: Chamber Works - Hebrides Ensemble

Posts: 7

Post by Beagle June 3, 2008 (1 of 7)
Once again, SACD reveals new details in a well-known work; I never had this work on vinyl, and the circa-1980 Phillips ADD disc was good -- but not good enough to alert me to some PPP glissandi at the opening of Quatuor pour le fin du temps. As with other Linn SACDs, this recording is state-of-the-art; some other listeners might find the miking 'too close', but I enjoy the sense of being inside the ensemble. You may consider this short note a 5+5 stars review, which I don't have time for.

I will just note that only part of this music was written in a German POW camp, notable sections originated more than a decade earlier. Internment seems to've contributed less inspiration than opportunity for composition, i.e. I don't believe this piece owes anything to nihilism ;-)

Post by Beagle June 4, 2008 (2 of 7)
Love the music, love the sound, but...

The designer of the enclosed booklet earns 1/2 of a star (out of a possible 5), since the musicians for each piece are not listed, e.g. the violinist for the second and third piece could be Janiczek or Bevan Baker. And why do timings have to be put in 5-point vision-defying type? None of this was for lack of space; the booklet contains sufficient "white space", evocative of something but utterly uninformative.

Post by Beagle October 21, 2008 (3 of 7)
LIVE VERSUS RECORDED

I had the good fortune to attend a 5-day Messiaen symposium last week, which included several live performances. A special treat was an evening of early Messiaen songs performed by Suzie LeBlanc*, with some Fauré and Debussy thrown in for company. In my review I expressed admiration for the spot-on performance by Hebrides Ensemble; on Saturday I heard the Quatuor performed live – and my admiration for the Hebrides soared. The original cellist Pasquier said that he had to develop “a whole new technique” to perform what Messiaen wrote; this weekend’s cellist demonstrated how difficult that technique can be. The composer’s immensely slow sustained notes are almost impossible to draw from the cello’s heavy strings when they fade to pianissimo – simply not enough energy is transferred from bow to string. At the end of the 3rd movement Louange, the cellist, the audience and I all had to imagine the final note when the sound ceased before the music. The final Louange by violin nearly suffered the same fate. Otherwise the live performance was a sheer delight, especially the clarinet passages by a young man named Wesley Ferreira whose superhuman breath control negotiated the prolonged decrescendi which challenged the string instruments. Hmm, Abîme d'oiseaux was written first... was Messiaen asking the strings to perform like a clarinet?

A lecture by Dr R. Rischin, author of ‘For the End of Time: The Story of the Messiaen Quartet’, emphasised Messiaen’s tendency to mythicize his past, e.g. inflating the size of the première’s audience ten-fold and claiming that the cello lacked a string – “because it amused him” according to cellist Pasquier. What I did not know was that Messiaen the military ‘medical assistant’ was in fact assigned to a French military band, along with Akoka and Pasquier (so they knew each other prior to being rounded up by the Germans). The Stalag VIII-A commandant, who provided not only music paper but also instruments and free time, was Belgian on his mother’s side and so spoke French and was unsympathetic to the Nazi party. Less trivially, Rischin quoted the original violinist Le Boulaire as saying that the musicians were “lost without the usual tempo landmarks” in Messiaen’s Quatuor, and that “fin du temps” was thus a double-entendre.

On Sunday, a pre-performance talk by Australian pianist, Simon Docking, explained that although Messiaen was enamoured with birds from a young age, he was a lousy ornithologist till well after the war years. So Messiaen’s text for the 1st movement, “a thrush or a nightingale”, may be an honest admission of confusion. Docking’s subsequent performance of Book I and VII of Catalogue d’Oiseaux was impressive, not only in skill but in sheer volume and percussive effect of the sound. The Linn recording is a good approximation, sound-wise, of Saturday’s live performance of the Quatuor, but I can’t imagine any recording delivering the energy of Docking’s Catalogue. Interestingly, the Linn recording has a wider sound-stage than that which I perceived with my eyes closed in 4th row, left-centre.
______________
*Just released on Analekta ACD2 2564.

Post by carledwards October 28, 2008 (4 of 7)
Beagle said:

Love the music, love the sound, but...

The designer of the enclosed booklet earns 1/2 of a star (out of a possible 5), since the musicians for each piece are not listed, e.g. the violinist for the second and third piece could be Janiczek or Bevan Baker. And why do timings have to be put in 5-point vision-defying type? None of this was for lack of space; the booklet contains sufficient "white space", evocative of something but utterly uninformative.

Info. I consider essential (from the Linn website):

William Conway - Artistic Director; cello
Alexander Janiczek - violin
Sarah Bevan Baker - violin
Catherine Marwood - viola
Rosemary Elliot - flute
Maximiliano Martín - clarinet
Philip Moore - piano

The SACD layer is both 5.1 channel and 2 channel

Can't wait to hear this! I love Messiaen.

Post by Beagle October 28, 2008 (5 of 7)
carledwards said: Info. I consider essential (from the Linn website):
...

To be more specific, the personnel (as above) are listed on p. 2 of the booklet and also on the back of the jewelcase. What I cannot find is which violinist, Janiczek or Baker, plays in (1-8) the Quatuor, (9) Theme et variations or (11) Fantasie. Since Janiczek is billed first, I have guessed that he is the violinist of the Quatuor -- but with all of Linn's other excellent qualities, why is their booklet so deficient?

Yes, the music is thing -- but such superlative musicianship deserves recognition.

Post by carledwards October 29, 2008 (6 of 7)
Beagle said:

To be more specific, the personnel (as above) are listed on p. 2 of the booklet and also on the back of the jewelcase. What I cannot find is which violinist, Janiczek or Baker, plays in (1-8) the Quatuor, (9) Theme et variations or (11) Fantasie. Since Janiczek is billed first, I have guessed that he is the violinist of the Quatuor -- but with all of Linn's other excellent qualities, why is their booklet so deficient?

Yes, the music is thing -- but such superlative musicianship deserves recognition.

I re-read your post and realize I misunderstood. My appologies.

I totally agree with your observations. Can't wait to get my copy to check out the music.

Post by Stanbury November 23, 2013 (7 of 7)
On listening to the Quatour I was surprised by the long reverberation time. The reverberation is not so loud as to interfere with the music, presumably because of the miking. Thus, one can hear the inhalations of the clarinetist as well as the reverberation. St. Mary's Church, Haddington is listed as the recording location. This "church" is no ordinary church: according to Wikipedia it is located in Scotland, not too far from Edinburgh, its construction began in 1380, and it is the longest church in Scotland. I guess that explains the long reverberation!

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