Birtwistle: Earth Dances; Secret Theatre; Endless Parade; Panic; Tragoedia

COMPOSERS: Birtwistle
LABELS: Decca British Music Collection
WORKS: Earth Dances; Secret Theatre; Endless Parade; Panic; Tragoedia
PERFORMER: Håkan Hardenberger, John Harle; Ensemble InterContemporain/Pierre Boulez, Cleveland Orchestra/Christoph von Dohnányi, BBC SO/Andrew Davis, etc
CATALOGUE NO: 468 804-2
The Gilbert-less Sullivan collection is a mixed bag. There’s a poised account of Di ballo from Mackerras, and Royston Nash brings real style and panache to the overtures Macbeth and Marmion and the ballet music from Victoria and Merrie England. But why represent Pineapple Poll in an arrangement for wind band?


Boult’s spirited performances of Arnold’s English Dances still stand up, though the recording (1954) is low level and showing its age. In the Guitar Concerto, Fernández can’t quite erase memories of Bream, especially in the bluesy central movement, but it’s good to hear the two brass pieces, both for the strength of the music and the outstanding quality of the PJBE in its heyday.

No quibble about performances and recording in the Birtwistle double. The first CD is a straight reissue of a Boulez/DG disc, with a dramatic Secret Theatre, and beautiful singing from Christine Whittlesey in Three Settings of Celan. The second CD comprises three virtuoso performances: from Hardenberger and Harle, and the entire Cleveland Orchestra in the stunning Earth Dances.

The Turnage double contains the first release of Some Days, with the vocal writing vibrantly delivered by Cynthia Clarey. The influence of black music is there in all these pieces, from the early Night Dances, through the saxophone concerto Your Rockaby, to working with jazz soloists in Blood on the Floor. All the pieces are played by their creators, who are right inside the music.


Four other releases complete this initial batch: one gives a further lease of life to the first recording of Britten’s Serenade and the Sitwell/Pears Façade (468 801-2). A Britten double (468 811-2) gathers together some rarer pieces, including The Poet’s Echo and A Birthday Hansel, together with the first release of a spellbinding 1957 recording of Abraham and Isaac with Britten, Pears and Norma Procter. Finally, Butterworth (468 802-2) and Finzi (468 807-2) CDs consist mostly of vocal music, the lion’s share in the capable throats of Benjamin Luxon and Philip Langridge.