Birtwistle: The Axe Manual, Harrison’s Clocks, Oockooing Bird

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COMPOSERS: Birtwistle
LABELS: Metronome
ALBUM TITLE: The Axe Manual
WORKS: The Axe Manual, Harrison’s Clocks, Oockooing Bird
PERFORMER: Nicolas Hodges, Claire Edwards
CATALOGUE NO: MET CD 1074
Compared with some of his peers –

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Ligeti, Stockhausen, Boulez –

Birtwistle has written relatively little

for the piano. But by including the

punningly titled The Axe Manual,

the piece for piano and percussion

written for Emanuel Ax and

Evelyn Glennie in 2000, as well as

the teenage (yet already typically

melancholic) Oockooing Bird and the

1960 Webern-esque miniature Précis,

and rounding up six occasional and

birthday pieces, there is enough for

Nicolas Hodges to fill a CD decently.

The performances of all of them are

simply wonderful. Every one of the

miniatures is precisely balanced with

every keyboard colour exactly caught

by the recording, and Hodges is

fiercely incisive and coruscating when

required in the most substantial work

here, the five-movement Harrison’s

Clocks from 1998, which he delivers

with an easy virtuosity that belies the

sheer technical difficulties of all the

pieces, while still finding an individual

expressive space for each gesture. He

combines well with percussionist

Clare Edwards in The Axe Manual,

a monumental, 22-minute study in

rhythmic layering that reinterprets the

relationship between the two players;

it may be one of the less accessible of

Birtwistle’s recent pieces, but it’s an

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impressive one. Andrew Clements