Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Quartet for the End of Time by the Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective (Live from Wigmore Hall)

I recently discovered the Wigmore Hall channel on YouTube and have been impressed by the recordings they have. This past Monday night (well, afternoon for me) I was able to catch their live performance of Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time), one of the most remarkable 20th-century compositions. Messiaen (1908–92), a Frenchman, composed the quartet in the winter of 1940–41 while a prisoner in the Nazi Stalag camp 8A at Görlitz. The prisoners had to make do with battered instruments, and the piece premiered in front of almost 400 prisoners-of-war. As has been noted in several places, Messiaen recalled: "Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension."

While the inspiration for the piece comes from the Book of Revelation, there is a glimmer of hope at the end. There are eight movements, and it helps to read Messiaen's notes, which can be found here. Lawrence University has a site covering musical elements, analysis, and Biblical notes.

You can watch a recording of the performance at the Wigmore Hall channel (also embedded below). The performers from the Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective are Matthew Hunt (clarinet), Elena Urioste (violin), Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello), and Tom Poster (piano). The live portion starts around the 4:30 mark and the performance lasts just over 50 minutes. All players are excellent and shine, but due to the nature of this piece Kanneh-Mason and Hunt really stand out. Enjoy.

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