Birtwistle: The Moth Requiem

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COMPOSERS: Birtwistle
LABELS: Signum
ALBUM TITLE: Birtwistle: The Moth Requiem
WORKS: The Moth Requiem; Three Latin Motets; Carmen Paschale; Lullaby; On the Sheer Threshold of the Night; The Ring Dance of the Nazarene
PERFORMER: Roderick Williams (baritone); BBC Singers; The Nash Ensemble/Nicholas Kok


If you feel alarm at the prospect of listening to Birtwistle, then just put it on, read the excellent booklet and its song texts, and let his highly personal, unmistakable music wash over you. This is a wonderful and important release of his powerful and often delicate works. Best, perhaps, to begin with On the Sheer Threshold of the Night, which is a kind of spin-off from The Mask of Orpheus: recounting and reflecting on Orpheus’s fatal backward glance at Eurydice, Threshold is direct, poignant and exquisite.

The programme covers almost the whole of Birtwistle’s creative life to date, from 1965 to 2012. It’s the last piece that gives the disc its title, The Moth Requiem, based on the idea of a moth caught inside the lid of a grand piano, brushing the strings and so forth. The music sets a poem by Robin Blaser and intersperses that with a list of Latin names of moths, some of them in danger of extinction, so that the piece becomes a meditation on transience. The longest piece, at 25 minutes, is The Ring Dance of the Nazarene, in which Roderick Williams, an artist of extraordinary versatility and intelligence, is the soloist. This disc is the most fitting tribute imaginable to Birtwistle on his 80th birthday.


Michael Tanner