Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time – Review

June 12, 2014
Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time

Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time

“Akoka – Reframing Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time” = DAVID KRAKAUER: Akoka; MESSIAEN: Quatour Pour La Fin Du Temps; JOSH DOLGIN (‘So-called’): Meanwhile – David Krakauer, clarinet/Matt Haimovitz, cello/Jonathan Crow, violin/Geoffrey Burleson, piano – Oxingale Records OX2022, 63:45 [Distr. by E1 Ent.] (4/01/14) ***:

Mostly quite interesting but a little weird.

Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time is an iconic piece of music. It is not just one of Messiaen’s greatest and best known works but it holds a very important place as – arguably – the best known work to have been composed, literally, by any composer as they were being held as a prisoner of war during the Nazi oppression. It is a brilliant and emotional work that finds great favor with clarinetists in particular but is also written in the style that will, in many ways, come to define the music of Messiaen. There have been hundreds of recordings of this work and this one is a welcome, if slightly quirky, addition.

David Krakauer is one of the world’s great clarinetists with ample technique and a tone quality that can – and often does – cross the bounds between Klezmer and classical and with equal skill. Similarly, Matt Haimovitz is an amazing cellist gifted with incredible technique and beautiful tone. While I was not as familiar with violinist Jonathan Crow or pianist Geoffrey Burleson, these two are also incredible performers. So, their collective rendition of the Quartet is excellent and well worth having. I call it “quirky” because – purely for me some of the tempos are over or under what I am used to hearing and I am not sure it rates as my new favorite (I rather like David Shifrin’s with Chamber Music Northwest or the old Gervase De Peyer) but it is, none the less, very good.

This entire album, here, is intended as a tribute to Henri Akoka, the Algerian-born clarinetist who, essentially, pestered Messiaen to keep composing when both were prisoners of war in a German camp during World War II; resulting in this landmark work. So, Krakauer’s own piece, Akoka, was written in his memory and in recognition of some of the horrors of the camp. This is largely a vehicle to show off Krakauer’s trademark slippery ethnic tone and ample flourishes. The work, as a whole, does sound quite unsettling but is, ultimately, just a little disconcerting and somewhat incomplete.

I had a stronger and less positive opinion of Meanwhile by “beat architect” So-called (a.k.a Josh Dolgin) This work takes samples of the quartet in performing/rehearsing the Messiaen Quartet and splices in sound bites of old radio broadcasts, cantorial singing and some drumming and techno hash. I admit I did not like listening to this and I probably missed the significance of the work. While I recognize the snippets of the Messiaen work and some of the radio bits that do discuss the Nazi purge, ultimately I thought, “Why?” – especially some of the urban techno beat behind the more para-oriental parts of the Messiaen original.

My reaction to this concept album is, therefore, mixed. This performance of Messiaen’s masterpiece is very good. Not my new fave; but very good. I could personally do withoutAkoka and Meanwhile. Others may think it’s brilliant.

By: Daniel Coombs

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