Beyond Time
Fabian MÜLLER (b.1964)
Am Anfang - Drei Versuche, die Welt zu erfinden (2010/15) for soprano and ensemble, texts by Tim Krohn [12.20]
Volker David KIRCHNER (b.1942)
Exil (1995) [19.33]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Quatuor pour la fin du Temps (1940) [47.44]
Christiane Boesiger (soprano: Müller)
Zurich Ensemble: Fabio di Càsola (clarinet), Kamilla Schatz (violin), Pi-Chin Chien (cello), Benjamin Engeli (piano)
rec. Radio Studio 1, Zürich, Switzerland 23-25 November 2015
Reviewed in surround

What these three pieces have in common, apart from being scored for the unusual combination of clarinet, violin, cello and piano, is that each deals explicitly with matters of transcendence, thus the disc title Beyond Time. Messiaen's piece is of course the only one listeners are likely to have heard before and it is wise to have placed it last on the disc. Those, who like to play all the way through an issue will not want the ethereal ending of this masterwork to be disturbed by any other sound. Ultimately the Messiaen Quartet is the reason to buy the disc, though the other two pieces are very enjoyable.

I usually feel that music should be left to speak for itself without much, if any, explanation. In the case of this SACD it is likely it will not get to be heard by most potential buyers without some reassurance of what is to come. Fabian Müller is a leading Swiss composer. He has several impressive commissions to his name from some very prominent soloists. Am Anfang (the title translaes as In the Beginning - Three attempts to invent the world) is a musical rendering of several creation myths and sets texts by Tim Krohn, a fellow Swiss, whose writings cover a range of genres from radio plays to novels to philosophical works. It is my one criticism of the issue that neither the German texts nor their translations are provided. A search on Google revealed absolutely no sign of them online, not even on the composer's own website. Those, who speak no German (like me) are warned, because the liner notes are not as explicit as one would like. This is a pity, because these three movements, sung with gusto, clarity and, one assumes, accuracy, by Christiane Boesiger, are interesting enough to make one wish for some hint of what, in the 'Ad libitum' sections, she is singing. The instrumentalists are expected to be as agile as the singer, but the results are never merely eccentric. There is obviously a real composer at work and he has something to say - it would be good to know quite what. Müller describes the shape of his work like this: "The three parts all begin with a quiet sound, the state before creation, from which arises, lyrically and musically, the world. And each of the three parts fades to its end in its own way back into the silence at the beginning of a new act of creation."

Volker David Kirchner is a German composer now in his mid 70s. He studied with the likes of the famous violinist Tibor Varga and composer Bernd Alois Zimmerman, so he has excellent credentials. He has written an impressive list of works including operas, quartets, sacred music, and concertos. His piece, just called Exile, has no words to help the listener. It lasts a little under 20 minutes and has five movements. The composer says: "The first movement ... portrays the act of turning away; the second ... depicts life in isolation." The third movement is actually entitled Isolation and the musicians are required to turn away from each other and spread out to emphasize this; the surround recording helps. The fourth movement is called Abschied (Farewell) and "offers an atmospheric approach to klezmer music." On the finale he is silent. Kirchner seems to have blotted his copybook with the avant-garde by taking 'the past four centuries of great music as a stock of musical capital' and this shows in a work that often leans towards a slightly neo-romantic lyricism and is certainly no more difficult than the Messiaen.

Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time is very characteristic of the composer. Unless a purchaser has never heard his music before, it will come as no surprise, being by turns contemplative and rhythmically complex. The note recounts the strange history of its composition and first performance, in Stalag VIII-A near Görlitz, and quotes much of the composer's religious musings about it. The work, especially the Danse de la fureur, benefits greatly from the superb recorded sound because, though there are only four instruments, the dynamic range required is very large and equalled by the range of different timbres. The Zurich Ensemble are as good as any of the competition in conveying the intensity and beauty of one of the 20th Century's great chamber works.

Dave Billinge

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