Birtwistle: The Triumph of Time; Gawain’s Journey

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COMPOSERS: Birtwistle
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: The Triumph of Time; Gawain’s Journey
PERFORMER: The Philharmonia/Elgar Howarth
CATALOGUE NO: 13872 DDD
The Triumph of Time was the orchestral work of the 1970s which first brought Birtwistle out of the avant-garde ghetto and put his name before the wider concert-going public. Twenty years on it retains its grim power. A grindingly slow processional taking its title from a Brueghel engraving, it is the perfect introduction to Birtwistle’s thinking, as the musical objects are rolled past like a frieze, constantly presenting new perspectives and conjunctions. Boulez made a dark, menacing recording of The Triumph of Time in 1975 which has never reappeared on CD. Howarth’s performance is smoother and less apocalyptic, yet guides the listener lucidly through the work’s intricacies.

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Gawain’s Journey is a different animal altogether. The music is from his opera Gawain, first staged at Covent Garden in 1991. Vocal lines have been absorbed into the orchestral texture and the disjunct extracts knitted into a seamless sequence. It is no substitute for the full opera but makes a colourful orchestral showpiece, full of vivid images and dramatic effects, and showing just how Birtwistle’s craft has evolved in the two decades since The Triumph of Time. Andrew Clements