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A Lotus Blossoming

01/07/2012
Gramophone (UK)
Geoffrey Norris

‘Australians explore covert links between two beguiling works’

Zemlinsky’s Trio for clarinet, celli and piano and Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time are worlds apart in musical discourse but the Ensemble Liaison, with Wilma Smith on the additional violin for the Messiaen, plays them both with an innate sense of style and finely calibrated emotion. With the Zemlinsky, composed in 1896, we are still in the expressive territory of Brahms. His own Clarinet Trio of only a few years earlier (1891) must have been in the back of Zemlinsky’s own. Here he is inhabiting the succulent world of late Romanticism, with a greater leaning towards rhetorical gestures, while still using Brahms as a guide to question of design.

Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, with the well-known circumstances of its composition in a German prisoner-of-war camp, ignites quite different sensations and makes quite difference demands on the performers. The scintillas of melody in the opening ‘Liturgie de cristal’, with their references to birdsong, are conveyed in evocative whispers by the Ensemble Liaison, providing a marked contrast to the dramatic outburst at the start of ‘Vocalise, pour l’Ange qui annonce la fn du temps’, then retreating once more into quiet, mesmerising contemplation. The perspective of the entire work is judged with similar poignancy.