When faced with such an unconventional ensemble as Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time – the combination of piano, violin, clarinet and cello purely the outcome of it having being written in a prisoner of war camp where these were the only instrumentalists available – the most complete way to programme it is with specially commissioned works.
Such was the inspired approach adopted by the Hebrides Ensemble last night. The real master stroke, though, was also to ask writer, broadcaster and former bishop Richard Holloway to preface the Messiaen with a short meditation that posed intoxicating thoughts on the issues of time and mortality in both philosophical and theological terms, and with references as diverse as T S Eliot and the film Blade Runner.
Thus the scene was set, aided by the mystical symbols that punctuate the architecture of this former church.
Not every piece of music suits these acoustics, but one so breathlessly beautiful and timeless as this was perfectly at home. The quartet – Yann Ghiro (clarinet), David Alberman (violin), William Conway (cello) and Philip Moore (piano) – moulded a performance that combined moments of aching stillness with bursts of hi-octane ecstasy. Most of all, they wrung every pore of emotion from Messiaen’s magical score.
As for the two new works, Suzanne Parry John in her Introspections and Lullabies and Mark David Boden in his Between Waking and Dreams drew elements from Messiaen. The quietly luxuriant piano chords underpinning the lyricism of Parry John’s piece was a genuine statement of self-expression; the mood of Boden’s music ranged from luminous delicacy to flashes of colour.
The programme is repeated tonight in Edinburgh.