Messiaen & Carter - Hebrides Ensemble - Classical Source

A welcome London appearance by the Edinburgh-based Hebrides Ensemble in a programme celebrating the centenaries of Olivier Messiaen and Elliott Carter (on the 10th and 11th December respectively).

A short first half combined their outputs for piano quintet. Written as a ninetieth-birthday tribute to publisher Alfred Schlee, Messiaen's Pièce pour piano et quatour à cordes (1991) tersely alternates birdsong with angular chordal sequences in a reminder that his late compositions are by no means a passive amalgam. Carter's Piano Quintet (1997) typifies his recent music in that its movements are a pithy succession of character-types, separated by anticipatory or recollecting interludes, whose continuity is grounded in late Beethoven and early Schoenberg.

The members of the Hebrides Ensemble were responsive to the invigorating requirements of both works. Between them, Carter's Gra (1993) is an incisive yet affectionate solo-clarinet tribute to Witold Lutoslawski on his eightieth birthday - its title the Polish for 'play'.

The second half brought Messiaen's Quatour pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the end of time, 1941), of which the Hebrides Ensemble has recently made a fine recording (on Linn CKD 314).

This Wigmore Hall performance was five minutes longer and brought out the fervour that galvanises the elegant layout of movements and scoring. Thus the deft interplay of 'Liturgie de cristal', alternation between angularity with wistfulness of 'Vocalise', or the Fauré-like dexterity of the brief 'Intermède'. Either side of this latter movement, Maximiliano Martin had probed the extremes in texture and dynamics of 'Abîme des oiseaux' with manifest assurance, but William Conway's intonation in 'Louange à l'Éternité de Jesus' was found wanting for all his commitment. The bracing rhythmic unison-writing throughout 'Danse de la fureur pour les sept trompettes' was finely controlled, however, and the intense motivic synthesis of 'Fouillis d'arcs-en-ciel ' left little doubt as to its climactic role within the formal scheme. Not that the ineffable calm of 'Louange à l'Immortalité de Jesus' did not leave the desired impression - especially when played with the expressive potency of Alexander Janiczek and the consistent attentiveness of Philip Moore.

It set the seal on this notable centenary tribute - London appearances from the Hebrides Ensemble should ideally be more frequent.

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01 June 2008