The London Sinfonietta introducing the viewers to Messiaen’s Quartet for the Finish of Time – Seen and Heard Worldwide

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United Kingdom Penderecki and Messiaen: Tim Gill (cello), Jonathan Cross (speaker), London Sinfonietta. Queen Elizabeth Corridor, Southbank Centre, London, 3.11.2022. (JC)

Cellist Tim Gill and members of the London Sinfonietta in rehearsal © Belinda Lawley

PendereckiPer Slava; Quartet for Clarinet and Strings

MessiaenQuartet for the Finish of Time

Autumn 2022 appears to be the season of Messiaen for me. I heard a improbable recital by famous Messiaen performer Tamara Stefanovich, which included the Ceremony-of-Spring-esque Cantéyodjayâ, at King’s Place final month. I used to be in a rehearsal of the Turangalîla-Symphonie simply this afternoon (fortunately not taking part in the ridiculously difficult piano half!) and this very night I attended a chamber live performance by the London Sinfonietta which had Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the Finish of Time) as its centrepiece. Catching a glimpse of Messiaen’s mesmerising sound world for the primary time might be revelatory, however gaining a deeper understanding of his music by absorbing extra of his works served to make him much more of a captivating composer to me.

Initially, this live performance was to be a collaboration between the London Sinfonietta and the Worldwide Centre of Modern Music in highlighting the music of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, however because of the sickness of the conductor Zvonimir Hačko, they determined to reschedule the live performance for a future date; as an alternative, the London Sinfonietta would current a special programme, this time placing Olivier Messiaen to the forefront. Nonetheless, Penderecki nonetheless starred within the first half of this live performance within the type of his transient piece for cello Per Slava, written for the legendary cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and carried out by Tim Gill this night, in addition to his Quartet for Clarinet and strings. I believed it was very good not solely to incorporate the works of the unique composer-in-honour, but in addition to introduce some slightly obscure items by Penderecki alongside the extra well-known up to date masterpiece Quartet for the Finish of Time.

The London Sinfonietta appeared keen to indicate their advocacy for intimacy and a much less formal setting when Chief Govt and Inventive Director Andrew Burke got here onstage earlier than the beginning of the live performance and inspired viewers members behind the corridor to be happy to search out empty seats up entrance to be able to higher benefit from the live performance. Nonetheless, that invitation appeared solely to set off a slight ripple of discomfort in an in any other case settled Queen Elizabeth Corridor, as individuals shuffled round, some taking nice care to not spill their beer as they journeyed over baggage and umbrellas to their new dwelling for the following two hours.

Per Slava is a six-minute piece that I’m fairly sure nobody within the corridor has ever heard. Penderecki’s works are usually fairly inaccessible to these unfamiliar together with his fashion, however this piece, in its structural simplicity, was simple to comply with, and Gill formed the phrases clearly and concisely for us to comply with. Starting with a easy motif, barely the silhouette of a melody, each small dissonance which emerged from it appeared profound, and I used to be struck by how lonely the solo cello was onstage. The simplicity of the music made me replicate on all that surrounded it and wrapped the music in a halo of profundity. Nonetheless, there have been moments which required nice dexterity from the performer, and Gill executed these passages precisely.

Following Per Slava was Penderecki’s Quartet for Clarinet and strings. The primary motion, Notturno, is a short one, with the devices coming in individually, every in mournful counterpoint to the opposite. Once more, a way of melancholy struck me, and I used to be reminded of lonely figures within the evening crossing paths however by no means greeting one another. The second motion (Scherzo) is intense and scuttling. Regardless of the plain technical problem posed by this motion, the quartet stayed very a lot collectively with out fault, however I believed it might do with a bit extra depth and drive. Nonetheless, I loved the melancholy remaining motion, Abschied (Farewell), which the quartet performed with a lovely but fragile sound.

Earlier than the interval, author and music lecturer Jonathan Cross got here onstage with a barely totally different quartet association from the Penderecki one to introduce Messiaen’s masterpiece to the viewers accompanied by some reside examples. The humorous tone of his lecture helped enliven the viewers and even appeared to loosen up the gamers. In a couple of minutes he had given us a crash course on Messiaen’s background and his music, together with his intense Catholic religion and esoteric lifelong curiosity in ornithology, in addition to the story behind the conception of this quartet. He then proceeded to the touch on the musical logic of Messiaen, giving us quick access into difficult Messiaenic ideas resembling his ‘modes of restricted transposition’. I discovered it actually attention-grabbing and thought it was an excellent concept to arrange an already open-minded viewers for what we’d hear. This small piece of training we bought as a part of our ticket bundle was neither pretentious nor intellectually demanding and served the mantra of the London Sinfonietta of introducing up to date music to a wider viewers very nicely.

It was apparent to me that the London Sinfonietta gamers have been way more acquainted with the Messiaen. Maybe it was the lecture beforehand, however it appeared to me Messiaen’s music in his Quartet for the Finish of Time is sort of accessible in the way in which the music expresses the title of every motion. The reasons given by Jonathan Cross paved approach for our appreciation of the music as we grasped the logic behind its composition. This isn’t summary music, however music that desires to suggest one thing, be it the imaginative and prescient of an angel or birdsong, and it’s important not simply to understand it merely as music in its personal proper; figuring out what the music symbolises enhances our appreciation of it. There was some lovely unison taking part in between violin and cello within the second motion, Vocalise. I used to be significantly impressed by the clarinet solo within the third motion, ‘Abîme des oiseaux’; Robert Airplane paid shut consideration to the sound he was making within the corridor, and his ‘birdsong’ actually grew till it stuffed the entire area. However simply as his sound might develop infinitely massive, so his quiet moments may very well be so infinitesimally small that one actually needed to pressure one’s ears to listen to the sound, making it all of the extra beautiful. Listening to his solo was an exquisite expertise.

Gill’s solo within the first motion (‘Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus’) was additionally actually lovely, however I needed to disguise an inappropriate smirk on the lengthy — at occasions disproportionally lengthy — lyrical melodic line which Messiaen wrote for the cello as a result of it jogged my memory of what Richter mentioned concerning the composer being too sentimental: ‘you get these sugar-water climaxes that I can’t stand.’ Within the case of this quartet, I need to disagree with Richter; the climax within the seventh motion (‘Fouillis d’arcs-en-ciel) triggered a launch of feelings, and I used to be glad to see I wasn’t the one one within the corridor shaking my head in awe of this ‘sugar-water climax’, Messiaen’s distinctive sonic imaginative and prescient of spiritual ecstasy. Nonetheless, youthful Messiaen (this quartet was written when the composer was 32) does ask for unabashed sentimentality in performing his music, and in that sense I discovered the Sinfonietta gamers seemingly in timid sympathy with Richter, for they appeared to carry again barely of their taking part in, restraining this unbelievable need the music unashamedly requires.

Jeremy Chan

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