Messiaen & Carter - Hebrides Ensemble - The Sunday Times

The excellent Edinburgh-based Hebrides Ensemble, formed in 1991 but barely seen in London until now, marked the centenaries of Messiaen and Elliott Carter with a Wigmore Hall recital in which each composer was represented by one long and one short work. 

At Wigmore Hall, the essential juxtaposition was of Carter's 1997 Piano Quintet and Messiaen's Quatuor pour la fin du temps, the first a single, complex movement in which the piano and the four strings are dramatically opposed - settling their differences involves much coruscating byplay - and the second an eight-movement sequence in which the clarinet, violin and cello are for the most part treated as soloists and real four-part writing is almost perversely minimised. The respective approaches to composition - Carter the obsessive integrationist, Messiaen the wielder of disparate blocks of material; Carter redefining our perception of musical time, Messiaen making musical objects so vivid that they seem spatial - could hardly be more contrasted.

They might come to be seen as limit cases of a notional 20th-century style, and one is all the more impressed by artists such as these who pass so convincingly between them. It was a nice touch to put Carter's witty little clarinet solo, GRA (an 80th-birthday present for Lutoslawski), on a programme with the sustained, solemn one that is the third movement of the Quatuor: Maximiliano Martin was captivating in both. Messiaen's crisp, three-minute Pièce pour piano et quatuor à cordes made an arresting opener for this daring but triumphant Wigmore debut.

08 June 2008