WORKS: Antiphonies; Nomos; An Imaginary Landscape
PERFORMER: Joanna MacGregor (piano)Radio Filharmonisch Orkest/ Michael Gielen; BBC SO/Paul Daniel
CATALOGUE NO: 14142 DDD
Nearly 70 minutes of Birtwistle both old and new create a striking portrait of this rugged individualist. Antiphonies for piano and orchestra, premiered last year, shares its densely glittering texture with another recent work, the opera Gawain. In contrast, An Imaginary Landscape of 1971, and Nomos, of three years earlier, have the capacity to captivate by their powers of suggestion.
Partly this relates to the composer’s way with time. Though these pieces move through a temporal medium, Birtwistle suggests a terrestrial panorama of viewpoints that is strictly impossible in a chronological art such as music, yet which also suggests a variety of fascinating conceptual contradictions. Paul Daniel grasps the statuesque, frieze-like quality of these earlier pieces, close in spirit to Birtwistle’s most celebrated score from this period, The Triumph of Time.
The directness and precision of his readings match that of Antiphonies with soloist Joanna MacGregor and the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest conducted by Michael Gielen. Argument and material here are more opaque than in the earlier scores, yet careful listening is amply repaid, assisted by a balanced recording that brings shining lustre to the harshest and darkest passages. Nicholas Williams