Birtwistle: Five Distances for Five Instruments; The Silk House Tattoo; 17 Tate Riffs

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COMPOSERS: Birtwistle
WORKS: Five Distances for Five Instruments; The Silk House Tattoo; 17 Tate Riffs
PERFORMER: John Wallace, Adam Wright (trumpet), Sam Walton (percussion); Royal Academy of Music Ensemble; Gallimaufry Ensemble
On this very useful, excellently performed short CD, all three pieces use space in one way or another as an intrinsic element of their musical language. The 17 Tate Riffs is the least substantial but also the most elaborate work here; commissioned to celebrate the opening of Tate Modern in 2000, it was designed to exploit the vast space of the gallery’s Turbine Hall by projecting the playing of the 15 instrumentalists around the hall, overlaid on a tape background of drones and natural and electronically generated birdsong. Gestures hang in the air, some answered and some not, and then the piece ends. In The Silk House Tattoo (1998) two trumpets are set against each other, moving around the points of the compass, while marshalled and prompted by a side drum; the resulting ritual recalls Birtwistle’s Seventies percussion piece For O For O the Hobby Horse is Forgot rather than anything more recent. Five Distances for Five Instruments is the weightiest work here, composed in 1992 for the wind quintet of the Ensemble InterContemporain (who recorded it for DG soon afterwards). The five players are instructed to sit as far apart as possible, alternating fluidly between antiphonal writing and passages in which they behave as a unified chorus, before the music stutters out like a clock winding down. It’s all beautifully realised by the RAM instrumentalists, and the recording evokes the different acoustics for each piece convincingly. Andrew Clements