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Birtwistle: Chamber Music, Songs / Fellner, Brendel, Batiashivilli, Freston

Release Date: 04/29/2014 
Label:  Ecm   Catalog #: 002043602   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Harrison Birtwistle
Performer:  Lisa BatiashviliTill FellnerAdrian BrendelRoderick Williams,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Back Order: Usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

BIRTWISTLE 3 settings of Lorine Niedecker. Trio. Bogenstrich: Meditations on a poem of Rilke. 9 settings of Lorine Niedecker Lisa Batiashvili (vn); Adrian Brendel (vc); Till Fellner (pn); Amy Freston (sop); Roderick Williams (bar) ECM 2253 (65:00)

To celebrate Harrison Birtwistle’s 80th birthday, ECM have gathered up a collection of recent chamber writing played by, and in some cases written for, a very classy line-up of soloists. It starts Read more delightfully with three miniature songs set to the American poet Lorine Niedecker’s texts. This first set from 1998 is contemplative in feel, brightly sung by Amy Freston, contrasting to a wistful, mellow cello accompaniment. The texts’ strange, fractured imagery is wonderfully set, with nothing arbitrary sounding about the twists and turns these brief, jewel-like works take.

The single-movement trio, written in 2011 and the most recent work here, is a jolt to Birtwistle’s more typically austere and bleak writing. Tense, cold phrases shift and die away, and there is a continuing feeling of restlessness and lack of form. It works best when at its most turbulent and frenzied, although there is a glimpse of humor later on too before it trails off into silence.

Bogenstrich , initially written in tribute to Alfred Brendel, is a strange five-movement cycle of Rilke settings, with his “Liebes-Lied” placed either side, bookending the instrumental sections. The musical themes run into each other, dreamlike (or like a violin bow, given its title) and inspiring some of Birtwistle’s most conventionally beautiful writing, full of submerged chords and elusive flashes of melody. Roderick Williams brings out the text delightfully, his light, expressive voice being ideal for this chamber cycle of ideas and illusions with instrumental movements titled “Song without words,” “Variations,” and “Like a Fugue.”

We return to Lorine Niedecker’s strange elusive world with Nine settings (2000), which again inspires a sense of still and calm, absent from the restlessness elsewhere. “Hear where her Snowgrave” is a weird but effective interplay of voice and cello, their lines moaning and sliding against each other in this sinister work. Niedecker’s broken, spare style is an obvious fit to Birtwistle’s fractured writing, and Amy Freston’s ethereal, vibratoless tone helps accentuate the bright-layered textures of these works.

Predictably given the caliber of the names here, the playing is stunning with no hint of soloist selfishness in the trio or songs, with especially fine work from Brendel junior on cello. ECM’s preproduction booklet is exemplary with texts and fine essays. Sound is bright and spacious, allowing every angular phrase and layer to shine. All in all it is a fine birthday tribute and I have to say, that as someone fairly agnostic about Birtwistle’s disjointed soundworld in large-scale works, such as The Minotaur , I find his chamber writing far more enjoyable and open; less pompous somehow. It helps that these are beautifully played, but this set of late-period miniatures might be the way in to Birtwistle.

FANFARE: Barnaby Rayfield
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Works on This Recording

Trio for Piano and Strings by Harrison Birtwistle
Performer:  Lisa Batiashvili (Violin), Till Fellner (Piano), Adrian Brendel (Cello)
Bogenstrich by Harrison Birtwistle
Performer:  Till Fellner (Piano), Adrian Brendel (Cello), Roderick Williams (Baritone)
Written: 2006 
Settings (9) of Lorine Niedecker by Harrison Birtwistle
Performer:  Amy Freston (Soprano), Adrian Brendel (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1998-2000; England 
Settings (3) of Lorine Niedecker by Harrison Birtwistle
Performer:  Amy Freston (Soprano), Adrian Brendel (Cello)

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