York Chamber Music Festival: Messiaen’s Quartet For The End Of Time, Lady Chapel, York Minster, 24/1/2023
THE prestigious York Chamber Music Festival began its tenth anniversary celebrations with a concert of Messiaen’s visionary work, the Quartet For The End Of Time, in an event contributing to Holocaust Memorial Week.
The venue of York Minster’s Lady Chapel, in front of the Great East Window – which depicts the beginning and end of all things, from the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation, and is fittingly known as the Apocalypse Window – seemed perfect.
Add into this mix four superb musicians, who had to negotiate the cold temperature and generous acoustic – Sacha Rattle (clarinet), John Mills (violin), festival director Tim Lowe (cello) and John Lenehan (piano) – and all the boxes for a wondrous concert seemed to be ticked. Sadly, this was not the case.
The opening Liturgie de cristal began well enough with lovely clarinet and violin birdsong imitations (blackbird and nightingale) but as soon as the piano joined in, it was obvious that it was not fit for purpose. The “power of the mighty angel” framing a quite lovely central section of the Vocalise, pour l’Ange qui annonce la fin du temps, simply never materialised.
To be sure, the Abîme des oiseaux for solo clarinet was played to perfection. Rattle’s delivery was spellbinding, the velvety-rich tone simply gorgeous and even a problematic Minster acoustic seemed to embrace, to cushion, the poignant sound world.
Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus opened with a moving cello solo, lovely playing from Lowe, but the piano sound was simply poor. The Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes fared better with all the instruments playing in unison, but the need for balance meant that the “music of stone, formidable granite sound” barely had a look in.
There was beautiful playing in the Fouillis d’arcs-en-ciel, pour l’Ange qui annonce la fin du temps and the sublime violin solo was focused and indeed transcendental, but as a duet it never made the “slow ascent…towards paradise”.
As I was leaving I had only one remaining concern, that the excellent John Lenehan in particular, simply deserved better than this.
Review by Steve Crowther