Birtwistle: Punch and Judy

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Birtwistle
LABELS: Etcetera
WORKS: Punch and Judy
PERFORMER: Stephen Roberts, Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Jan DeGaetani, Philip Langridge, David Wilson-Johnson, John TomlinsonLondon Sinfonietta/David Atherton
This is a welcome reissue of the 1979 recording of Birtwistle’s first opera, with the London Sinfonietta under David Atherton (who also conducted the first performances at the 1968 Aldeburgh Festival). It shows the composer’s early preoccupation with myth-making – the story’s violence, as expressed in the music, is contained within an inventive and often witty ritualised formality. Despite that apparent constraint, the opera is passionate and emotive rather than detached and ironic, as shown by the first-rate cast (including Philip Langridge and John Tomlinson, with Stephen Roberts as Punch), and alongside the brutality are moments of tenderness (Judy’s ‘Passion Aria’, for example, sung with stark lyricism by Jan DeGaetani). As usual, Birtwistle is never less than thought-provoking. William Humphreys-Jones