Instrumental and vocal techniques are intertwined in the music of Harrison Birtwistle: he often treats the voice instrumentally and his instrumental writing has vocal characteristics. Many of his works for small ensembles, with or without voices, occupy this common ground, his highly individual style juxtaposing the static and the violently dynamic and intersecting with his fondness for ritual and myth – not least a recurrent concern with the figure of Orpheus. This recording presents some of these relatively neglected pieces, recorded live in the presence of the composer, who also talks about his songs in interview.
Catalogue No: TOCC0281EAN/UPC: 5060113442819Release Date: 01.06.2015Composer: Harrison Birtwistle Artists: Alice Rossi, Das Neue Ensemble, Kuss Quartet, Soloists of the HMTMH Theater und Medien Hannover, Stefan Asbury
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Jim Svejda :
“Birtwistle’s songs are…audacious, surprising, endlessly inventive, and often gravely beautiful.…all the performances burn with a sense of missionary zeal, while the recorded sound and documentation—especially the long Birtwistle interview—are predictably superb. In short, here’s an ideal introduction to a small but obviously important and deeply personal corner of a great composer’s output.” —Fanfare Magazine, January/February 2016
William R. Braun :
“…welcome and excellent release… Of the twenty-six small Birtwistle puzzle pieces that make up Orpheus Elegies, the eight selections here include three with voice. Countertenor Johannes Euler intones his Rilke texts gravely, with the glittery assistance of oboist Doga Sacilik and harpist Jasmin-Isabel Kühne. For Nenia: The Death of Orpheus, soprano Alice Rossi steps into the formidable shoes once occupied by Jane Manning and Jan DeGaetani. She gives a go-for-broke performance in the wide-ranging intervals. She must portray Orpheus, Euridice and a narrator almost simultaneously, altering unpitched speaking with song, at times syllable by syllable, and she convincingly creates the illusion of multiple performers. Birtwistle treats only the later, grisly part of the myth. He controls the drama with intensity, as does Conductor Stefan Asbury. Rossi also sings Songs by Myself, a bit of a fiftieth-birthday lark wherein Birtwistle sets his own poetry. With languorous low flute over solo strings and piano, the five brief songs emerge as Birtwistle’s distilled version of Ravel’s Madagascar Songs. Sophia Körber sings nine settings of Lorine Niedecker, a Wisconsin poet whose appeal remains elusive. But Körber sings the poetry, which is nearly aphoristic, in a forward and communicative way that is preferable to Amy Freston’s cool accuracy on an earlier recording. Körber’s freedom in the early song pays dividends in the new musical expression of the ninth song, where the pitches of a two-note rocking figure gently pull apart under the vocal line, marked to be sung “not phrased.” Cellist Aram Yagubian is a fine partner, the two artists making the exact length of each song seem inevitable.” —Opera News, November 2015
Jack Sullivan :
“The early Nenia: The Death Of Orpheus is sung, shrieked, and chanted by the young soprano Alice Rossi, who plays three roles in a polyphonic rendering of Orpheus’s dismemberment. (An obsession with Orpheus is a Birtwistle signature.) She is sensational here and hauntingly subdued in the 2006 ‘Lullaby’. This Orpheus piece is not to be confused with the 2004 Orpheus Elegies, a gentler work graced by the crystalline harp of Jasmin-Isable Kuhn and the high-altitude voice of countertenor Johannes Euler. Whatever one makes of Birwistle’s music, he gets excellent performances. … The briefest items, Nine Settings of Lorine Niedecker for cello and soprano, are only a minute or two each. A little bit of Birtwistle goes a long way, and these highly concentrated pieces are the most striking items here. Rossi, impressive as ever, brings these tiny bursts of dark feeling to life, accompanied by cellist Aram Yagubian, who plays with ghostlike eloquence. … People who admire Birtwistle will want this; it offers mostly unfamiliar repertory and first-rate performers—not only the singers and instrumental soloists, but the Kuss Quartet and the superb Das Neue Ensemble, led by modern-music specialist Stefan Asbury.” —American Record Guide, January 2016
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