Olivier Messiaen - Hebrides Ensemble - Manchester Evening News

Olivier Messiaen was born 100 years ago this year, and celebrations of his music are coming thick and fast.

This attractive CD is devoted to his chamber music - the big piece being Quatuor Pour La Fin Du Temps, the piece he wrote as a prisoner-of-war in 1940, with violin, clarinet, cello and piano the only instruments available to play.

Like much of his organ music, its sections have theological or Biblical sub-titles which are essential to understanding it - indeed, the final one ('Praise to the immortality of Jesus' here) was a description of 'blessed eternity' in its previous form for organ.

Its floating, endless melody, set against ethereal harmonies, demonstrates an aspect of his music which is most immediately atttractive.

It's found, too, in his Thème Et Variations of 1932 and Fantaisie for violin and piano (1933), a rediscovered work here getting its premiere recording.

The Hebrides Ensemble play these with patent devotion, as they do the flute examination piece La Merle Noir and the very late, brief Pièce Pour Piano Et Quatuor A Cordes - both relatively insubstantial.

One reservation: the full power of a concert grand is hardly appropriate for Quatuor Pour La Fin Du Temps, which was written for an upright piano... one on which the notes were apt to stick once they'd been played, prompting some wags to suggest that it could account for the strange nature of the harmonies used (!).

But Messiaen's music is like no other, and with experience it grows on you. This is one way to give it a try.

Manchester Evening News
29 May 2008