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LABELS: ABC Classics
WORKS: Opening of the Mouth
PERFORMER: Deborah Kayser (soprano), Ute Wassermann (mezzo-soprano), Richard Barrett (live electronics), Elision Ensemble/Simon Hewett
CATALOGUE NO: 465 268-2 (distr. UMP)
Richard Barrett is perhaps best known for Vanity, his first orchestral work, released by NMC in 1996. Opening of the Mouth, his first vocal composition on record, was premiered in Perth, Australia, in 1997, when it formed part of a live event that also featured the work of installation artist Richard Crow. This later studio version, though slightly abridged, remains a hugely impressive and compelling piece.


Opening of the Mouth takes its title from an ancient Egyptian purification ritual to restore speech to the dead. Its libretto finds a modern analogy in the poems of Paul Celan, whose writings confront Adorno’s much-quoted claim that poetry after Auschwitz is impossible. Barrett creates an extraordinary sound-world for these texts, spare yet evocative and richly varied. If his use of collage and layering recalls the compositional strategies of Braxton and Stockhausen, the startling expressive range he elicits from the Elision instrumentalists and singers reflects his work with improvisers such as George Lewis and Evan Parker.


Soprano and mezzo voices are threaded through a shifting timbral weave that also affords generous solo space to, for example, bass clarinet, cello, koto, percussion and electronics, as performers realign in ever-changing configurations. Compassionate and starkly beautiful, this is truly remarkable music.