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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Akoka: Reframing Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, David Krakauer, Matt Haimovitz & Friends

Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time" is without question one of the masterpieces of modern chamber music. Once you hear it a few times, it takes its place inside your musical mind and stays there. It expresses in sorrow and transcendence the horror of Nazi Europe and its evil promise. No wonder, Messiaen wrote it as an inmate in a concentration-work camp, for performance by himself and fellow musicians to play as an act of musical defiance in the face of despair. Never has such bitter sorrow led to such music!

Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time (Pentatone Oxingale 5186 560) is as it says, a new recording of  the Quartet  as the centerpiece of an extended performance which sandwiches the work in between David Krakauer's "Akoka" and socalled's "Meanwhile".
The latter is an ultra-contemporary coda to the work, a sort of remix of the Quartet; "Akoka" is dedicated to the original clarinetist in the first performance, one Henri Akoka. It is a structured improvisation based on Krakauer's template.

The bookend performances give us a current-day framing and affirm that Messiaen's music of protest remains completely relevant to our times, as we feel the shadow of evil making itself felt again all over the world.

This performance of the Quartet is up there with the best. David Krakauer, clarinet, Matt Haimovitz, cello, Jonathan Crew, violin, and Geoffrey Burleson, piano, give us a very thoughtful and spirited reading. The bookend pieces serve to situate and extend the impact of the music and do so in interesting ways. All in all this may well be the version you should get if you have none to date. It is essential music, as fresh as ever, as movingly personal as it is universal.

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