We all know by now that "war is hell," but then some wars are better than others. No doubt most of us I hope are still very glad that Hitler and Mussolini lost WWll. The World Wars transformed Europe, Asia and America in many ways, and the death toll meant that an entire generation was nearly wiped out worldwide. Some governments fell, some regimes toppled, many lives were forever changed and we mostly look back and feel grateful for those that resisted and prevailed. WWII was one of those events that tore the world into pieces and then put it back together. The classical music written in those years was moving, a fair much of it, especially those works written about the wartime world. There was the dramatic but determined beauty of Prokofiev's Symphony No 5, Shostakovich's Symphony No 7, Hindemith's Requiem for the death of FDR, "When Lilacs Last in Dooryard Bloomed," and then Messiaen's tragic Quartet for the End of Time,
written in a Nazi Prison Camp during the war yet filled with a very musical hope.Time does not diminish its beauty and relevance, perhaps especially now.
So there is a new performance of it available and it is a clear contender for the very best of the recordings, Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps (Our Recordings 6.220679) brings together a remarkably savvy and attuned quartet with the presence of Christina Astrand on violin, Johnny Teyssier on clarinet, Henrik Dam Thomsen on cello, and Per Salo on piano.
The Messiaen Quartet shows us as perhaps never before or since (save the Turangalila) the special tonal and post-tonal synthesis as forwarded by Messiaen in that early middle period. With this Our Recordings performance the Quartet shows so aptly how it all combines for the most haunting sort of expression and completely viral originality, in theme after unforgettable theme. Perhaps, and I do not really want to say this, but I cannot see how else, it took the kind of faith, the unwavering Catholicity Messiaen had ever to be able to respond to the Fascistic prison camp end of time in the way he did, a model perhaps for the musical response that ever should be made in the face of evil and adversity. Take a listen to the seventh movement and how this quartet lets it sing if you want an idea of why I favor this version. This link gives a live version with the same quartet lineup as the album. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHb7GK_ZCqM It gives you a good idea of what you'll hear in the studio recording.
So grab a copy of this one if you want to explore this evergreen work or indeed if you want another beautiful take on it. I've loved this work and listened to it happily for upwards of fifty years now. Trust me this recording will send you to where Messiaen hoped you would dwell as you listened. Highly recommended.