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Birtwistle: Panic / Earth Dances

Birtwistle: Panic / Earth Dances

4 Jun 2007

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Product details

  • Original Release Date: 4 Jun 2007
  • Release Date: 4 Jun 2007
  • Label: Decca Music Group Ltd.
  • Copyright: (C) 1996 Decca Music Group Limited
  • Record Company Required Metadata: Music file metadata contains unique purchase identifier. Learn more.
  • Total Length: 55:09
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  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 133,524 in MP3 Albums (See Top 100 in MP3 Albums)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By R. J. Cochrane on 18 Dec 2004
Format: Audio CD
Fans of Birtwistle will almost certainly know these scores already, particularly Earth Dances, which is perhaps the largest of his processional, ritualistic pieces. It's been compared to "The Rite of Spring", although probably more for its volatility than for any musical similarities.
This is a big (35-minute), sweeping work, as befits its tectonic inspiration (it is the earth that, in the title, is dancing). This means it can also feel a bit episodic, alternating between clearly-defined contrasts but not seeming to build much of an "argument" in the traditional sense. The perception that this is HB's most important work probably comes from a tendency to conflate size with profundity, but still this is great stuff; it's just a shame that some of his other, smaller-scale works aren't so well-known.
The second piece here, Panic, is a showpiece for saxophone, drum kit and orchestra inspired by the myth of Pan, goat-god and perennial troublemaker. The saxophone takes Pan's role and contends with the orchestra throughout, making a superficially abrasive, hyperenergetic piece. However, it's beautifully paced, with brash passages interrupted now and then by a more pastoral tranquility. It's a tranquility that never lasts long, however --most of all towards the end, when such a section begins only to be shattered by Harle's tenor sax scattering all before it.
I can't agree with the Amazon reviewer on this piece -- I've come back to this piece many times for its sheer exuberent sense of fun. It's unlike anything else by HB, and John Harle plays with tremendously jazzy energy, making the meticulously-notated part sound off-the-cuff. A pity it was scheduled on the Last Night of the Proms, where it was guaranteed an audience of the musically unadventurous; the anecdote is in danger of overshadowing the music.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Essential Birtwistle 13 July 2003
By peer gynt - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Panic caused a scandal at its premiere at The Last Night of the Proms a few years ago. Some disgruntled readers of the British 'Radio Times' questioned whether this actually could be called music. Intrigued and not having heard the first performance, I bought this cd enthusiatically...
However, it appears I had been taken in by a deeply traditional Last Night of the Proms audience; Panic is a deeply musical piece, orgiastic, primitive, unrelenting, yet suave, inflected with jazz and accessible.
The title is a pun on Pan, the Greek half-goat demi-god, and the whole work is a primal yet sophisticated goat dance played with swing by saxophonist John Harle with orchestral support plus jazz kit.
Earth Dances is a monumental orchestral work of interlocking rhythmic structures, full of heavy brass and low register rumblings. The Earth itself is dancing and its movements are slow, massive and momentous. At around 37 minutes, this is long for a single movement, but Birtwistle seems to create a timeless atmosphere in his depiction of elemental forces.
I recommend this cd highly to all listeners interested in the most important English composer of his generation and to those new to Birtwistle, as this release amply demonstrates his originality, power and two of his artistic preoccupations: ancient Greece and nature.
The playing on both works is excellent but my one quibble is the balance of the recording of Earth Dances. Whilst I appreciate the problems in balancing the huge orchestral forces, the trombones and drums feel a little too distant and one loses a certain directness of attack in the echoey acoustic.
All in all, though, a great release.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Some reasons for the white-livered to panic, indeed 7 Sep 2008
By Discophage - Published on
Format: Audio CD
"Panic", Birtwistle's Saxophone Concerto, was met with a gigantic uproar when it was premiered on the Last Night of the Proms on September 16, 1995 - the first piece of contemporary music ever to have appeared on that occasion - and broadcast to an audience of millions of viewers on the BBC 1. No wonder. Imagine the wildest and most piercing solos of free Jazz Saxophone and add to that a violently pounding and seemingly cacophonous large symphony orchestra, and you'll get something like Panic. The piece is conceived as an evocation of the God Pan (or Dyonisus), and the words of the English poet from the Victorian era Elizabeth Barrett Browning that preface the score are telling: "What was he doing, the great god Pan, Down in the reeds by the river? Spreading ruin and scattering ban, Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat, And breaking the golden lilies afloat With the dragon-fly on the river." As with about all the music of Birtwistle, it is forbidding, rugged, aggressive, not seductive, but unquestionably impressive. There were good reasons for the unprepared public of that Last Night of the Proms to panic, indeed. So be prepared.

Completed in 1986, "Earth Dances" signalled the composer's return to writing for the large symphony orchestra, 14 years after his "Triumph of Time" (1972) which first brought him to wider public attention. In Earth Dances, he developed and brought a few steps further some compositional processes first essayed in his piece for ensemble Secret Theatre from 1984. He divides the orchestra in six different groups, assembled by instrumental register (violins and upper winds, lower strings and brass etc. - although there are shifts of instruments between the different groups), each assigned a different layer or "stratum" of material, some linear and melodic, some vertical (which I assume refers to chordal pounding). Theses six strata aren't present continuously but appear and reappear, come to the fore and fade into the background. It is the shifting relationships of the strata that generate the work's prodigious and often violent surface energy - making the Earth "dance". The piece exemplifies Birtwistle's fascination with the musical piece as an "object" to be considered from different vantage points, as a rock or crystal observed from different angles, rather (re the notes) than the "organic", goal-directed linearity of traditional Western music.

"Earth Dances" is massive, menacing, forbidding, eliciting a sense of awesome power, at times pent-up, at times unleashed. As its title implies, It evokes the massive telluric processes that have shaped and reshaped the earth's surface ever since the formation of the planet. Again, the music is impressive rather than seductive. Although there are melodic lines (thorny and tormented), the piece is less about melody than about violence, matter, processes.

Dohnanyi's sonics are much more present and vivid than those afforded to the premiere recording, by the BBC SO under Peter Eötvös (Birtwistle: Earth Dances), and the orchestra has more bite. In 2004 DG released another version on their 20/21 series (making it one of the composer's most recorded pieces), with the Ensemble Modern Orchestra conducted by Boulez, and for reasons unknown it took four years to get a listing on this website: Birtwistle: Theseus Game, Earth Dances. I'll review it soon.

Excellent notes. TT 55:20. This disc has been reissued , complemented with the composer's Trumpet Concerto "Endless Parade" (Endless Parade: Trumpet Concertos by Birtwistle / Maxwell Davies / Blake Watkins) and with Boulez' DG disc of pieces for ensemble (Harrison Birtwistle: Secret Theater / Tragoedia / Five Distances / Three Settings of Celan - Pierre Boulez / Ensemble InterContemporain), on a convenient 2 CD set from Decca's British Music Collection (The British Music Collection: Harrison Birtwistle).
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I find Panic less than rewarding, though this is a good version of Earth Dances 13 Nov 2010
By G.D. - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Panic was received with some excitement at the 1995 Proms (or at least attention), and may, in all fairness, make a greater impact if seen as well as heard. As it is, it is typical Birtwistle, of course, and his brand of `music theatre'. It is also rather desperately short on imagination and interest. John Harle snarls and grumbles and shrieks for 18 minutes in fierce competition with Paul Clarvis (drums) with an ensemble of winds and percussion as cheering spectators. It isn't particularly interesting, however, and with respect to the actual material, this is Birtwistle on an off day (the performances are impressive, however).

Earth Dances is a different matter. This is a dramatic, exciting forty-minute showpiece in which the orchestra is divided into six different strata (following a geological metaphor), whose shifting relationship is supposed to track the relationships and tensions created by the vast forces of nature that shape the Earth. The music is grinding, gnashing, melding, metamorphosing, building up the densest, most massive textures imaginable before drawing them apart in various directions, transforming them and rearranging the relationships, returning to the beginning, but also letting melodic material drift through the various strata. On top, there is the bustling life and quick changes of the surface world, full of detail and variety.

It is a fascinating work (though not exactly easy listening), but Dohnanyi is also up for some competition here; while he manages to keep the textures and rhythms impressively clear, there is a tad more that can be obtained in terms of atmosphere and surface excitement. The sound is generally good but somewhat boomy. A fine disc, then, but there are equally impressive alternatives for Earth Dances, and Panic isn't really worth your time (apart from the controversy it sparked).
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Birtwistle at his usual dreary 30 Dec 2010
By Christopher Culver - Published on
Format: Audio CD
The two pieces recorded here have been reissued with other material on a Decca compilation. "Panic" for saxophone, drum-kit and orchestra (1995) is perhaps Harrison Birtwistle's most notorious piece. Performed at the last night of the 1995 Proms, a time usually reserved for populist and patriotic traditional English music, it provoked an uproar among the conservative audience. It's no surprise why when the piece veers between sounding like an explosition in a jazz club and orchestral attempts to get a word in edgewise. The same musicians who premiered it, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Andrew Davis with saxophonist John Harle, record it here. "Earth Dances" for orchestra (1986) tames the savagery of the preceding piece somewhat, containing a clear line through, but portrays a world of orchestral forces never entirely reconciled to each other. The Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi give a competent performance.

I don't usually care for Birtwistle's music. I have nothing against modernism, and in fact, I listen mainly to the Darmstadt school and their successors, but I think that Birtwistle has no sense of colour or organic elegance. The exception (and it's a big one) is his remarkable Pulse Shadows on poems of Paul Celan, one of the most appropriate pairings of word and music in the history of music. I can imagine recommending the music on this disc here for study purposes, for the "Panic at the Proms" incident is still talked about in the classical press to this day, but I sure don't think these two pieces are much fun.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Difficult but rewarding music beautifully presented 22 Aug 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Birtwistle's PANIC, almost jazzy at times, is obviously meant to be more immediately accessible to a general audience. EARTH DANCES is more cerebral and requires more effort from the listener. You need to read the album notes and listen to the piece a few times before you start getting into it. The effort is worth it, though.
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