As Bob Dylan pointed out, “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Both got their due Wednesday night at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, where members of the DaPonte String Quartet and guest artists performed Stravinsky’s “L’histoire du Soldat” and Messiaen’s mystical “Quartet for the End of Time.”

I don’t know who programmed two of the 20th century’s most distinctive compositions on the same bill, but both the contrasts and the similarities were striking.

Stravinsky arranged his “Soldier’s Tale” for piano, clarinet and violin, and I like the combination better than the original. It was played with brilliance, humor and force by Ferdinand Liva, violin, Mark Simons, clarinet, and Jon Klibonoff, piano.

The performance was without the usual narrator and dancers, which made it short and to the point. But for those who were interested primarily in the music, it was a revelation to hear all five sections clearly and without distraction. The quite insane Tango-Waltz-Ragtime movement was a joy to hear.

If “L’histoire” was short, Messiaen’s magnum opus more than made up for it. Still, the audience was mesmerized through all eight movements. Messiaen was a devout Catholic, but his mystical vision, composed in a German concentration camp, would grace any of the world’s religions.

The heroes or heroines of the quartet are the birds, beginning with the opening “Liturgie de cristal,” and continuing with the third, “Abime des oiseaux,” a clarinet solo in which the weariness of human time is compared to the timeless joy of creatures thought by Messiaen to be the premiere musicians of the world.

The solo is one of the supreme challenges to the instrument, with impossibly long crescendos, rapid and intricate bird calls and abrupt shifts in register. Simons easily overcame the technical challenges and, more important, realized the composer’s intent almost perfectly.

The “Intermede” that followed, for the entire quartet, provided a tender, almost tonal, interlude, followed by a cello and piano “Louange a l’Eternite de Jesus.” That movement, marked “infinitely slow,” was given an intensely moving performance by Klibonoff and cellist Myles Jordan.

A reflection with the same title ends the quartet, this time played on the violin by Lydia Forbes. It depicts the ascension of the soul with forever rising pitches until the tones become almost inaudible. The final bars were so profound that the audience held its applause for long after the final note had vanished into the ether.

There are also quite furious, high-volume sections, such as the “Dance of Fury, for the seven trumpets,” and the appearances of the angel who announces the end of time, which, in their rhythmic inventiveness and use of jazz idioms, seemed uncannily like the Stravinsky suite.

A few years ago, the “Quartet for the End of Time” seemed a curiosity, seldom heard. It has now taken its place in the pantheon of 20th-century masterpieces. Performances such as that by the DaPonte and its guests have led to its increased recognition.

Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at:

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