Erich Gruenberg

Messiaen: Quatuor pour la fin du Temps; Chronochromie

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It's a testimony to the durability of Quatuor pour la fin du Temps that it can be effective in such a broad range of interpretive approaches, from the most hazily impressionistic to readings of scintillating clarity. Balance within this unconventional ensemble is one of the most significant interpretive parameters, with some groups aiming for a seamless blend between the disparate instruments and others emphasizing their timbral distinctiveness. In this exemplary 1968 recording, violinist Erich Gruenberg, cellist William Pleeth, clarinetist Gervase de Peyer, and pianist Michel Béroff take the latter approach and perform with clear-eyed grace and sensitivity. The result is a gleaming and pristine reading that's technically flawless and warmly emotional. This was one of the first fully successful recordings of the quartet, and it lives up to EMI's imprimatur for the series in which it's issued, "Great Recordings of the Century." The CD also features the first recording of Messiaen's 1960 orchestral piece Chronochromie, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Antal Dorati, who had led the work's premiere. It's a thornier and more forbidding work than the quartet, but when given full attention, it's ultimately no less rewarding. It's among the type of Messiaen pieces that's best appreciated by relinquishing a need to analyze and understand, and adopting an open acceptance of the aural phenomena as they occur. It's full of startling and colorful sonorities and has a propulsive, if unpredictable rhythmic vitality. Dorati leads a performance that's sensitive to both the work's delicacy and explosive energy. EMI's sound is clean and vibrant.

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