Notes and Editorial Reviews
Earth Dances of 1986 is Birtwistle’s second large-scale work for full orchestra, completed several years after the masterly Triumph of Time (1972). This powerfully impressive work carries the layer technique of Secret Theatre a step further, in that there are now six such layers that continuously interact in ever-shifting relationships. The end result however is an impressive, craggy and rugged landscape of no mean grandeur.
The Last Night of the Proms in 1995, for which Birtwistle was commissioned to write Panic was a quite remarkable event in many respects. Rarely has a Prom piece given way to such white-hot controversy: "cons" were overtly outraged by this riotous, almost telluric evocation of Pan whereas
"pros" relished the iconoclastic vitality of this exuberant piece. Indeed the music moves along with relentless intensity and, some would say, uselessly violent drive, actually with little respite, if any. I watched the first performance during the Last Night’s broadcast and I was frankly baffled by the sheer volume of intensity displayed in the piece, by the formidable assurance and physical strength of John Harle and Paul Clarvis and by the apparent nonchalance of Sir Andrew steering clear amidst this exciting Witches’ Cauldron. I still do not know whether or not I like this piece; but I know that, like it or not, this is a considerable technical feat.
-- Hubert Culot, MusicWeb International
Shorn of the attention it received at its premiere at the Last Night of the 1995 Proms, Panic seems just another example of the ‘instrumental theatre’ that Harrison Birtwistle has made all his own. John Harle’s alto saxophone is the chorus leader, wailing, snarling and skirling almost continuously for 18 minutes. He is challenged more than aided by the drumkit of Paul Clarvis and accompanied by a typical Birtwistle ensemble of wind and percussion. It may not be among its composer’s best examples: neither material nor structure is strong enough to sustain attention consistently. The drama involving the drumkit really needs to be seen to make its proper impact, too. But Panic is rather more than an occasional piece. Earth Dances, ten years old, has already become a contemporary classic, and this second recording is fully deserved. Richness and depth are among the keys to the composition’s success: the way, for instance, in which melody finds a path through the clashing and combining of the six independent ‘strata’ that help give the work its title. While Eötvös’s live performance (a 1991 Collins single) has more poetry, atmosphere and even perhaps excitement, Dohnányi’s recording has plenty of rhythmic bite as well as astonishing clarity.
Performance: 4 (out of 5), Sound: 5 (out of 5)
-- Keith Potter, BBC Music Magazine Read less
Works on This Recording
Panic by Harrison Birtwistle
John Harle (Saxophone),
Paul Clarvis (Drums)
Sir Andrew Davis
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1995; England
Length: 18 Minutes 21 Secs.
Earth Dances by Harrison Birtwistle
Christoph von Dohnányi
Length: 36 Minutes 46 Secs.
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