Gryphon Trio & James Campbell - For the End of Time


Finding religion in prison is nothing new, but composer Olivier Messiaen reached farther, towards liberation from the bounds of time itself. The product of his consciousness-raising efforts was the Quartet for the End of Time, written and premièred at the Nazi prison camp Stalag VIIIA in 1941. It’s a signature piece for the Gryphon Trio and clarinetist James Campbell, who launched their recording of it in Calgary on a recent tour. The piece unfolds in eight movements with evocative titles (its seventh is “Tangle of Rainbows, for the Angel who announces the End of Time”) and varied combinations of instruments. The choice of clarinet, violin, cello and piano was largely by chance — those were the musicians available at the prison — but Messiaen wrote brilliantly for each, exploring limits of register, sustain, whispering silences and cathartic howls. The all-Canadian ensemble fully captures the strangeness and sublimity of this music, its eerie unison gyrations and the transcendently beautiful solo movements for clarinet, cello and violin. Two nostalgic works, both commissioned by the Gryphon Trio, bookend the Quartet. Canadian Alexina Louie’s Echoes of Time, composed in 2011, borrows Messiaen’s instrumentation and thematic burblings (which Messiaen largely borrowed from birds he overheard). Ukrainian Valentin Silvestrov’s 2007 piano trio Fugitive Visions of Mozart… trails off like its title, recasting classical phrases and forms in six delicately halting movements.

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