The prodigiously gifted son of an even more prodigious father, Peter Serkin has shown a special interest in Messiaen very like the interest his father showed in Reger. I gather that he and his three collaborators here formed the group Tashi specifically to perform this piece. Their account has always had the status of a classic. Other fine performances have come on to the scene since 1976, but as I myself have recently come by a particularly good and eloquent effort not available on its own, I thought it might be worth seeing how the Tashi version justified its eminence a quarter of a century on. Coming quickly to the bottom line, I would say that any collector looking for only one version of the work need have no second thoughts about acquiring this one. There are things I myself prefer in other versions and there are things that I still like best in this. It is all really a matter of fine detail and any listener's individual temperament.
The work was composed and first performed in a prisoner-of-war camp during WWII. What it may prove regarding the triumph of good over evil in this world I do not propose to assess. To me, it is certainly a musical statement in some senses, but not in quite that sense. What Messiaen's music, in bad times as well as in good, always expresses is his unshakable and semi-mystical Catholic faith. Whatever his circumstances, even these, he felt and saw everything against the backdrop of eternity as his faith defined that. In happier times his music has a sense of relaxation and even of self-indulgence that are naturally absent here, but he is never introverted. His vision is always looking to the far side, and for me music, however and wherever it originated, is still just music.
The new version that I have just obtained is actually an older version, from 1971, than this, and it is performed by the stellar consort of Erich Gruenberg, Gervase de Peyer, William Pleeth and Michel Beroff. It comes in a 2-disc EMI Classics set with no less than Turangalila, which not many will consider as a makeweight, and is probably out of the reckoning for anyone looking just for the quartet. Where it sheds a specially interesting light on the Tashi version is precisely in being earlier. To a certain extent Tashi have set a standard for subsequent performance. Tashi's approach is in general lighter, with more tonal and tempo contrasts, and with less overt emotion. Given my own general outlook, this is an approach I respond to a fraction more as it seems to me to leave behind the ghastly background to the work's composition in the way I believe the composer's mind and soul did. I personally take greatly to the occasional sudden hush, and I take especially to the special touch Peter Serkin deploys in the composer's characteristic long chains of quiet chords. Also very impressive to my ears was Richard Stoltzman's big solo in the 'Abyss of the Birds' with its slow tempo and big dynamic range.
From any point of view I should call this a performance in the great category. The recording is very good, and if cost is a factor it seems to be competitive in that respect as well.
As someone who listens mainly to jazz & blues I'm probably not the best person to review Olivier Messiaen's religiously inspired 'Quartet For The End Of Time'. Messiaen performed it for the first time during his captivity in Stalag 8-A on January 15, 1941 and this album was recorded in December, 1975 by the quartet 'Tashi' with Peter Serkin(piano); Ida Kavafian(violin); Fred Sherry(cello) & Richard Stoltzman(clarinet).
All I can say is that I found the eight movements utterly gripping from beginning to end and profoundly moving.
I'm delighted to have discovered this marvellous recording which I play constantly and would recommend anyone to give it a listen whatever their musical tastes.