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CD Review

Harrison Birtwistle

Early Works

  • The Fields of Sorrow
  • Verses for Ensembles
  • Nenia: The Death of Orpheus
Jane Manning, soprano
The Matrix/Alan Hacker
London Sinfonietta/David Atherton
Lyrita SRCD306 56m ADD
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The three works that comprise this programme by Harrison Birtwistle, date from a very important period of transition in the composer's career. Verses for Ensemble for five woodwind, five brass and three percussion instruments was written in 1969 and is by far one of Birtwistle's most radical works. It is in this piece that the composer, for the first time, put forth the idea of having musicians move during performance to accommodate the musical development founded on the alternation, juxtaposition and repetition of small blocks of material.

In contrast to "Verses", "The Fields of Sorrow" for two sopranos, chorus and 16 players is a wondrously beautiful setting of a Latin text by Decimus Ausonius (c310-395). The work is markedly mellow in mood and unfolds in a broad, slowly progressing processional way resembling a funeral cortege.

The 1970 cantata "Nenia" uses instruments such as the prepared piano and bass clarinets to create a rather original timbre which also includes a soprano part. The recordings are classics of their time, both Atherton and Hacker very attuned to the difficult music on offer. This is an excellent tribute to one of the greater geniuses of the late 20th century.

Copyright © 2008 by Gerald Fenech