Harrison Birtwistle: Slow Frieze Antiphonies

Performed by Marcus Weiss, Christian Dierstein, Antonia Schreiber, Nicolas Hodges, WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln conducted by Stefan Asbury; the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group conducted by Martyn Brabbins and Windkraft Tirol conducted by Kasper de Roo.

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Birtwistle
LABELS: Metronome
ALBUM TITLE: Harrison Birtwistle: Slow Frieze Antiphonies
WORKS: Antiphonies; Slow Frieze*; Panic**; Crowd†
PERFORMER: **Marcus Weiss (saxophone), **Christian Dierstein (percussion), †Antonia Schreiber (harp), Nicolas Hodges (piano); WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln/Stefan Asbury; *Birmingham Contemporary Music Group/Martyn Brabbins; **Windkraft Tirol/Kasper de Roo
CATALOGUE NO: MET CD 1079

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A timely reminder that Birtwistle is no mere local hero: WDR Symphony Orchestra tackles the complexities of Antiphonies, while Windkraft Tirol deliver Panic with tremendous panache. Though the latter caused such outrage at the Last Night of the Proms in 1995, here it sounds cheerfully, anarchically jazzy, with its rock drum riffs and raucously lyric saxophone (Marcus Weiss and Christian Dierstein are convincingly abandoned soloists), even calling to mind works of Turnage, an unlikely bedfellow, but at that moment grappling with similar sonic materials.

Even Birtwistle’s most ardent fans found his piano concerto Antiphonies a hard nut to crack: this 2005 revision may be structurally more streamlined, yet its jolting energies, impulsive gestural language and brooding, kaleidoscopic textures remain intimidating. The heavy artillery clears for some striking intervals of reflective beauty, and bursts of high-speed dynamism from the virtuosic Nicolas Hodges. While soloist and orchestra reach agreement in Antiphonies, they move in solemn processional worlds apart in Slow Frieze, a superb premiere recording by the BCMG, again with Hodges.

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Crowd (2005), Birtwistle’s only work for solo harp, is a tour de force of fearless questioning in an atmosphere of aqueous luminescence. Antonia Schreiber masterfully dramatises its enigmatic discourse. Helen Wallace