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Fin du Temps
Toru TAKEMITSU (1930-1996)
Quatrain II [15:22]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
Quatuor pour la fin du Temps [46:02]
José Luis Estellés (clarinet), Aitzol Iturriagagoitia (violin), David Apellániz (cello), Alberto Rosado (piano)
rec. 2019, Auditorio Manuel de Falla, Granada, Spain
IBS CLASSICS IBS72020 [61:42]

Pairing Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time with Takemitsu’s Quatrain II is such an obvious thing to do, I am surprised nobody seems to have done it before on CD. Not only did Takemitsu score his work for the same instrumental combination as Messiaen’s work (it is a revised version of the original Quatrain of 1975 which was scored for clarinet, violin, cello, piano and orchestra), but in sound, style and visionary scope is indelibly linked with the music of his French contemporary.

That is hardly surprising. Takemitsu was apparently so profoundly moved by the French work that he sought Messiaen’s permission to write a work using the same unusual combination of instruments (that seems unnecessary – to my knowledge, there are no copyright issues when it comes to combinations of musical instruments), but he may also have needed permission to adopt a similar numerical symbolism. While Takemitsu inhabits a spiritual world rooted in his Japanese ancestry a world away from the devout Roman Catholicism of Messiaen, he does build his work around numerical symbolism. With Messiaen, that key number is eight; the booklet notes tell us that Takemitsu organised his work around the number four – “four in the sense of plenitude, balance, symmetry; and here, four as the lines that make up the stanza in a quatrain, four as the number of instruments used, four as the organisation of the sections into groups of four bars, and four as the augmented fourth interval”. Such explanatory detail may appeal to those of an analytical frame of mind, but rest assured, if it seems to verge dangerously on the theoretical, the music speaks with great eloquence and beauty, a perfect partner for the elevated intensity of Messiaen’s timeless quartet.

This Spanish ensemble delivers outstanding performances of both works, and while there is no current competition for the Takemitsu – Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony recorded the original Quatrain for DG back in 2005, but this seems to be the first commercial recording of Quatrain II - it would take something very special to exceed the almost hypnotic focus of this one. As for the Messiaen, a work which is widely available on CD in performances from some of the very best players around, this, for my money, tops the lot of them. This is not only a recorded performance of the Quatuor pour la fin du Temps which I would recommend unreservedly, but the one which I would suggest stands as about the best currently available on CD.

Dip into this performance anywhere (although it is not recommended – this is one of those performances that must be heard uninterruptedly from start to finish) and you will experience music making of truly compelling intensity. One of my favourite moments is around 5:49 in the “Fouillis d’arcs-en-ciel” where the four players create a sound which astonishingly presages Messiaen’s later use of the ondes martenot. But in every one of the work’s eight, intensely wonderful movements, there is something very special these performers bring. Savour the translucent delicacy of Alberto Rosado’s piano in the opening “Liturgie de cristal”, the magical luminosity of Aitzol Iturriagagoitia and David Apellániz in perfectly coordinated duet in the “Vocalise”, the luscious, haunting clarinet playing of José Luis Estellés in “Abîme des Oiseaux”, the absolutely matchless coordination of phrasing, dynamics and articulation in a hugely invigorating performance of the brief but electrifying “Intermčde”, the profound beauty and inexorably growing intensity of the soulful violin supported by the heartfelt beating of the piano in “Louange ŕ l’Eternité de Jésus”, the immaculately pointed rhythms of the “Danse de la fureur”, the intricate weavings of the clarinet and cello in “Fouillis d’arcs-en-ciel” and, most inspiring of all, the sublimely restful and ethereally magical performance of “Louange ŕ l’Immortalité de Jésus” in which Estellés takes violin luminosity to an entirely new level. This is extraordinarily special music-making from all four players, and the result is a performance of rare potency.

Marc Rochester

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