Royal Northern Sinfonia Ensemble, Kendal Town Hall

IT IS January, 1941; we’re somewhere in Germany - Saxony, I think. Some 5,000 of us are in a prison camp listening to the first performance of a piece of music by a fellow inmate. It’s bitterly cold, we live in squalor, we’re hungry, we witness unbelievable cruelty, live side by side with death and are separated from our loved ones. And yet…in some improbable way, this music transports us back into our former lives and all sorts of pleasant memories are revived. But…also depicted, it seems, is our anger that the futility of war has resulted in our incarceration in this hell-hole.

Is this reality? No! It is January 2018, we were in Kendal Town Hall, the Royal Northern Sinfonia Ensemble - guests of the Midday Concert Club - was on stage, the music having such an impression on us all was Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time - a remarkable, revolutionary work, composed in 1941 in conditions outlined above.

Such was the compelling intensity and quality of performance by the four musicians, Bradley Creswick (violin), Brian O’Kane (cello), Max Welford (clarinet) and Sam Armstrong (piano), that Messiaen’s extraordinarily powerful portrayal of emotions was relayed to us in persuasive manner - by the quartet as a whole, during passages of retrospective calmness and present intense anger and loss of hope; even more so, by the solo movements. The clarinettist’s superb musicianship and control of dynamics gave meaning to every note and phrase; so, too, the cellist’s delineation of his exquisite melody and the pianist’s accompanying chords, as they rose and fell in emotional power; the masterly violinist - wondering if life would ever return to normal but strongly believing that the power of love would enable it to do so - all frequently brought tears to the eye.

The audience - motionless, absorbed, conversant with the on-stage drama - contributed hugely to the atmosphere of an all-enveloping, unforgettable experience that eventually brought the deserved, final prolonged applause. 'Applause?' - seemed incongruous?