ZEMLINSKY, MESSIAEN A Lotus Blossoming
MESSIAEN Quatuor pour la fin du temps*
Ensemble Liaison, *Wilma Smith (violin).
Melba Recordings MR301132
The spirit of Brahms hangs heavily over Zemlinksy’s early Trio. Written in 1896 for a competition sponsored by a Viennese music society whose president was Brahms himself, the older composer clearly approved of the flattery – he recommended Zemlinsky to his own publishers.
Richly textured, full of pressing rhythmic ideas, by turns stormy and lyrical, its model was Brahms’s own Clarinet Trio, and the most obvious parallels lie in the heavy and serious first movement – which certainly justifies Zemlinsky biographer Marc Moskovitz’s suggestion in his liner notes that “to grasp the full extent of the music’s virtuosity requires, perhaps, concentrated listening” – as well as in the finale, where the initially light-hearted, almost Hungarian, dance figure quickly assumes a monumental technical challenge which the three members of the Melbourne-based Ensemble Liaison handle with unflustered zeal.
This is an impassioned and committed performance marred only by occasional intonation issues in unison passages between cello and clarinet. The highlight comes in their graceful account of the beautifully lyrical slow movement. The angular theme – certainly more Zemlinsky than Brahms – is eloquently expounded by pianist Timothy Young before the others unobtrusively appear and together build it expansively to its deliciously tranquil ending.
Combining this outpouring of unashamed romanticism with Messiaen’s esoteric Quatuor pour la fin du temps (‘Quartet for the End of Time’) makes sense only because of the similarity of instrumentation; clarinet, cello and piano trio are joined by the violin of Wilma Smith. Otherwise the two works are poles apart – despite the best endeavours of the booklet notes to forge tenuous links – and it is probably just as well that Ensemble Liaison allowed a good six months to elapse between their recordings of the two works.
No hint of Zemlinsky’s opulent soundworld carries into this distinguished and utterly idiomatic performance of the Messiaen.
The visionary elements are searingly drawn, the violin and cello providing a magically floating line above Timothy Young’s crystalline piano chords in the ‘Vocalise, pour l’Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps’, while David Griffiths’s extended solo clarinet movement – ‘Abîme des oiseaux’ – with its long opening soliloquy and subsequent myriad bird song passages, is not just technically superb but spiritually intense too.
Cellist Svetlana Bogosavljevic brings an enticing otherworldly mysticism to ‘Louange à l’Eternité de Jésus,’ while Wilma Smith’s soaring violin floats ethereally heavenward in the closing ‘Louange à l’Immortalité de Jésus.’
The only significant reservation with this recording is the very
forward placing of the clarinet. It rather dominates, especially the opening ‘Liturgie de cristal’, and while the ensemble is flawless in the testing unisons of ‘Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes’ the prominence of the clarinet gives a slightly hollow quality to the overall sound here.
Nevertheless, a fascinating juxtaposition of two dramatically different works both convincingly delivered by these astute players.