Magazine article Gramophone

Birtwistle: Gawain

Magazine article Gramophone

Birtwistle: Gawain

Article excerpt

Birtwistle                                  [R] Gawain John Tomlinson bass-bar   Green Knight/Bertilak Francois Le Roux bar                     Gawain Marie Angel sop                   Morgan Le Fay Anne Flowells mez            Lady de Hautdesert Richard Greager ten                      Arthur Penelope Walmsley-Clark sop           Guinevere Omar Ebrahim bar                           Fool Alan Ewing bass                        Agravain John Marsden ten                          Ywain Kevin Smith counterten                  Baldwin 

Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden / Elgar Howarth NMC [F] [2] NMCD200 (136' * DDD * S/T) Recorded live, April 20,1994 From Collins Classics 7041-2 (5/96)

Birtwistle has always been fascinated by drama and the theatre, which began to manifest itself in compositions for the concert platform even before he wrote anything for the lyric stage. Myth and ritual have been continuing preoccupations too. When Gawain, the fifth of his music-theatre pieces, was first performed at Covent Garden in 1991, it was the first to be described as an 'opera', as if in recognition of the houses for which it was designed and of the expectations of people who go there to listen to stories told through singing. The linear nature of Gawain does indeed fulfil the traditional story-telling function of opera, dramatising and illustrating a sequence of events as narrated and elaborated by David Harsent in a libretto based on the Middle English epic of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

At King Arthur's court at Camelot, it is Christmas. Invisible to the court are Morgan Le Fay, the King's half-sister and aunt of Gawain, plotting to destroy the court and to keep Gawain in her thrall, while the course of events is commented upon by her partner in seduction, the Lady de Hautdesert. Arthur demands diversion; they reassure him he is not going to be disappointed. After a masterly build-up of tension characteristic of the composer, the Green Knight enters on horseback and issues a challenge: he is willing to receive a blow from any of the grail knights on condition that a year and a day from now whoever has agreed to the wager will accept the same from him. Gawain responds, decapitating the Green Knight with one blow, who then picks up his head and rides off, while continuing to sing through it with a reminder of the bargain he has struck. …

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