Birtwistle: Pulse Shadows

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COMPOSERS: Birtwistle
LABELS: Teldec New Line
WORKS: Pulse Shadows
PERFORMER: Claron McFadden (soprano); Arditti Quartet, Nash Ensemble/Reinbert de Leeuw
CATALOGUE NO: New Line 3984-26867-2
No poetry after Auschwitz? Or only poetry? The Romanian-Jewish poet Paul Celan’s grappling with the paradoxes of language and silence after the Holocaust has found a strange and haunting correspondence with Harrison Birtwistle’s fascination with the conundrums of music’s place in time and space in his 1996 work Pulse Shadows. These ‘Meditations on Paul Celan’ sprang from a single setting of Michael Hamburger’s eloquent Celan translation ‘White and Light’. They grew into more settings, and a single string quartet movement, and proliferated into nine settings for soprano and ensemble which move, mobile-like, around nine movements for string quartet of ‘songs that could not be written’.


Stephen Pruslin, whose lucid commentary enhances this altogether excellent production, refers to Calan’s Verbal implosions that leave only an imprint’. Birtwistle’s attempts to make these audible are realised superbly here: in the Arditti Quartet’s prismatic performances of the Fantasias and frozen Friezes; and in Claron McFadden’s singing, with the Nash Ensemble – impassioned, numbed, and achingly expansive in turn. As she performs a gently eloquent double-act of singing and reciting, in English and in German in the ‘Todtnauberg’, and as the Arditti work through their dance of death in the ‘Todesfuge-Frieze’, Birtwistle finds performers who compellingly persuade us that, in Celan’s words, ‘there are still songs to be sung on the other side of mankind’.