Magazine article Gramophone

Birtwistle: The Moth Requiem

Magazine article Gramophone

Birtwistle: The Moth Requiem

Article excerpt

Birtwistle [GC][GP]

The Moth Requiem. The Ring Dance of the Nazarene (a). Three Latin Motets. Carmen Paschale. Lullaby. On the Sheer Threshold of the Night (a) Roderick Williams bar BBC Singers; Nash Ensemble / Nicholas Kok Signum [F] SIGCD368 (74' * DDD * T/t)

I doubt whether anything the year brings for Birtwistle's 80th birthday is going to dim the lustre of this excellent recording of his choral music. Nor surpass it in importance, perhaps--it seems to me we may have failed to realise how close these pieces are to the core of him, in no way apart from the thrust of what he does on other stages, orchestral and instrumental, lyrical and theatrical. The more you explore the collection, the more aware you are of his fingerprints and the concerns we have come to think of as characteristic--to do with memory and memorialising, with transience and loss, cab and response, myth and ritual, and with retellings of old stories in striking new ways. And as with other prime movers and shakers, he is his own man, whose sound and voice we immediately catch, recognisable from any two notes he puts together.

There are instruments here as web as voices--woodwind, harps and percussion rather than bowed strings, and sometimes only one, as in Carmen Paschale, the earliest of these pieces, from 1965. There it is a flautist who electrifies the setting of an Easter poem (from Helen Waddell's Medieval Latin Lyrics) at the mention of a nightingale. In The Ring Dance of the Nazarene (2003) there are woodwinds as web as a baritone soloist with the choir, together with a big part for a drummer on the Iranian darabuka, performing a kind of percussion continuo and symbolising perhaps 'the Nazarene' (= Christ) as dancer. He is given a dramatic entry. David Harsent, several times Birtwistle's librettist and one of his preferred collaborators, did the text specially for the piece. …

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