Birtwistle: The Woman and the Hare; Nine Settings of Lorine Niedecker; Duets for Storab; An Interrupted Endless Melody; Entr’actes and Sappho Fragments

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COMPOSERS: Birtwistle
LABELS: Black Box
WORKS: The Woman and the Hare; Nine Settings of Lorine Niedecker; Duets for Storab; An Interrupted Endless Melody; Entr’actes and Sappho Fragments
PERFORMER: Claron McFadden (soprano), Julia Watson (speaker); Nash Ensemble/Martyn Brabbins (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BBM 1046
Birtwistle’s setting of The Woman and the Hare by David Harsent (Gawain’s librettist) gives this disc its name, and is the most recent work in a compilation which is best savoured piece by individual piece. The emotional temperature and sound-palette is only subtly varied throughout these works; and they function less well as a continuous private concert.

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So – woman and hare, aria and recitative, song and narrative: they meet, mingle and mystify in an archetypal Birtwistle creation. Claron McFadden’s so-eloquent soprano and Julia Watson’s poetry reading are lit by the soloists of the Nash Ensemble, as they provide both graphic physical utterance, and a glimpse into a raw, elemental area of human consciousness beyond verbal articulation.

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Birtwistle’s Nine Settings of Lorine Niedecker is another new work, written in 1998 for the 90th birthday of Elliott Carter. The alternation and interplay of solo voice and cello in these haiku-like shards of earth, air and water remind one of Birtwistle’s sequences in the recent double cycle of Celan settings and quartet movements, Pulse Shadows. And a similar chemistry was at work as early as 1962, when the Entr’actes and Sappho Fragments came into being: more shifting perspectives, fragments and reworkings which continue to enchant and regenerate the ear and the spirit. Hilary Finch