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Birtwistle: The Mask of Orpheus Box set

Price: £24.75 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
Includes FREE MP3 version of this album.
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Birtwistle: The Mask of Orpheus + Birtwistle: Punch and Judy
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Product details

  • Performer: Jon Garrison, Peter Bronder, Jean Rigby, Anne-Marie Owens
  • Orchestra: BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Andrew Davis, Martyn Brabbins
  • Composer: Harrison Birtwistle
  • Audio CD (17 Nov 1997)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Format: Box set
  • Label: NMC
  • ASIN: B000026745
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 176,687 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Listen to Samples and Buy MP3s

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Disc 1:

Song Title Time Price
Listen  1. Parados 2:11Album Only
Listen  2. Act 1 sc I: 1st Poem of Reminiscence 9:12Album Only
Listen  3. Act 1 sc I: First Act of Love 3:34Album Only
Listen  4. Act 1 sc I: First Passing Cloud 2:40Album Only
Listen  5. Act 1 sc I: First Structure of Decision 1:31Album Only
Listen  6. Act 1 sc I: First Ceremony 2:03Album Only
Listen  7. Act 1 sc I: First Love Duet 2:48Album Only
Listen  8. Act 1 sc I: First Song of Magic 2:34Album Only
Listen  9. Act 1 sc I: First Immortal Dance 3:02Album Only
Listen10. Act 1 sc ii: First Cry of Memory 3:18Album Only
Listen11. Act 1 sc ii: Second Passing Cloud 3:46Album Only
Listen12. Act 1 sc ii: Second Act of Love 3:57Album Only
Listen13. Act 1 sc ii: First Allegorical Flower of Reason 3:42Album Only
Listen14. Act 1 sc ii: First Look of Loneliness (Aristaeus) 5:19Album Only
Listen15. Act 1 sc iii: First Time Shift/ First Human Lie 1:30Album Only
Listen16. Act 1 sc iii: First Whisper of Change (a)0:45Album Only
Listen17. Act 1 sc iii: Second Ceremony/ First Exchange 2:05Album Only
Listen18. Act 1 sc iii: First Song of Failure 2:35Album Only
Listen19. Act 1 sc iii: Second Immortal Dance0:59Album Only
Listen20. Act 1 sc iii: First Hysterical Aria (a) 1:03Album Only
Listen21. Act 1 sc iii: Second Statement of Reason 2:04Album Only
Listen22. Act 1 sc iii: First Hysterical Aria (b)0:35Album Only
Listen23. Act 1 sc iii: First Magic Formula 1:49Album Only
Listen24. Act 1 sc iii: First Hysterical Aria (c)0:46Album Only
Listen25. Act 1 sc iii: First Shout of Gratitude 3:27Album Only

Disc 2:

Song Title Time Price
Listen  1. Act 2 sc I: Second Time Shift/ Second Love Duet 4:18Album Only
Listen  2. Act 2 sc i: First Whisper of Change (b)0:49Album Only
Listen  3. Act 2 sc i: 1st Arch 2:56Album Only
Listen  4. Act 2 sc i: 2nd Arch 2:15Album Only
Listen  5. Act 2 sc i: 3rd Arch 2:15Album Only
Listen  6. Act 2 sc i: 4th Arch 2:20Album Only
Listen  7. Act 2 sc i: 5th Arch 2:08Album Only
Listen  8. Act 2 sc i: 6th Arch 2:14Album Only
Listen  9. Act 2 sc i: 7th Arch 1:43Album Only
Listen10. Act 2 sc i: 8th Arch 2:04Album Only
Listen11. Act 2 sc i: 9th Arch 2:52Album Only
Listen12. Act 2 sc ii: 10th Arch 2:04Album Only
Listen13. Act 2 sc ii: 11th Arch 2:04Album Only
Listen14. Act 2 sc ii: 12th Arch 1:42Album Only
Listen15. Act 2 sc ii: 13th Arch 1:50Album Only
Listen16. Act 2 sc ii: 14th Arch 1:51Album Only
Listen17. Act 2 sc ii: 15th Arch 2:27Album Only
Listen18. Act 2 sc iii: 16th Arch 1:43Album Only
Listen19. Act 2 sc iii: 17th Arch 3:48Album Only
Listen20. Act 2 sc iii: Second Allegorical Flower of Reason 3:27Album Only
Listen21. Act 2 sc iii: First Terrible Death/ Second Whisper of Change 1:22Album Only

Disc 3:

Song Title Time Price
Listen  1. Act 3 sc i: Third Time Shift 3:32Album Only
Listen  2. Act 3 sc i: Third Whisper of Change 1:03Album Only
Listen  3. Act 3 sc ii: Third Dream 2:38Album Only
Listen  4. Act 3 sc ii: Third Allegorical Flower of Reason 3:26Album Only
Listen  5. Act 3 sc ii: Third Song of Magic (a)0:30Album Only
Listen  6. Act 3 sc ii: Euridice Puppet/ Euridice Singer 2:27Album Only
Listen  7. Act 3 sc iii: Third Song of Magic (b) 1:04Album Only
Listen  8. Act 3 sc iii: Third Spoken Argument 1:38Album Only
Listen  9. Act 3 sc iii: Third Song of Magic (c) 1:07Album Only
Listen10. Act 3 sc iii: Third Sentence of Teaching 1:44Album Only
Listen11. Act 3 sc iii: Third Terrible Death 1:19Album Only
Listen12. Act 3 sc iii: Third Song of Magic (d) 1:08Album Only
Listen13. Act 3 sc iii: Third Ceremony 2:29Album Only
Listen14. Act 3 sc iii: Third Song of Magic (e) 1:31Album Only
Listen15. Act 3 sc iii: Third Love Duet 1:48Album Only
Listen16. Act 3 sc iii: Third Song of Magic (f) 1:53Album Only
Listen17. Act 3 sc iii: Third Hysterical Aria 3:47Album Only
Listen18. Act 3 sc iii: Third Passing Cloud 3:04Album Only
Listen19. Act 3 sc iii: Third Immortal Dance 3:15Album Only
Listen20. Act 3, sc iii: Exodos 6:56Album Only

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By John Ferngrove TOP 500 REVIEWER on 24 Feb 2007
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
It's taken me a few listens to get going with this, but understanding has given way to awe as the scope of Birtwistle's intent has dawned on me. This is a total work of art beyond mere pigeon-holing as music. It is ritual theatre that draws on roots as ancient as classical Greek drama and beyond. Birtwistle integrates startling orchestration and state of the art electronic synthesis, to give rise to something that is utterly new and vital, and that manages to entirely avoid the post-modernist clichés that so much contemporary music falls into. The thing operates on so many levels, both compositionally and dramatically, that one could hear it many times and still have only scratched the surface. If you believe in the future of the tradition of high European art then you have to come to some kind of terms with this music.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Klingsor Tristan VINE VOICE on 31 May 2005
Format: Audio CD
OK. So Harry Birtwistle is tough, I know. But perseverance, especially in this piece, reaps copious rewards.
This is a huge opera - not particularly in length or even in the forces demanded, but in ambition. It starts with the very birth of language and song, a musical creation myth as potent as the beginning of Rheingold, and takes us through a dramatic narrative that deals in the nature and meaning of myth and memory while telling the story of Orpheus and Euridice. Or, rather, the stories. For the Mask of Orpheus continually takes different views of the myth, different versions of the story as handed down by the folk traditions, and sets them agaist each other to reflect on one another.
Cold and intellectual, then? Not at all. I have never sat through the end of the second Act - either in the theatre or listening at home - without a tear or two. Act 1 includes an aria with flute obbligato as ravishing and purely beautiful as anything in Birtwistle's output (at least before The Second Mrs. Kong). That Act ends with the terrifying ululations of the Oracle of the Dead - truly scary. The dramatic impact of the second Act as Orpheus moves from arch to arch across to the Land of the Dead (what a curiously inexplicable but potent image those arches are) reaches a towering and thrilling climax. The musical tides of the third Act move inexorably in and out, gathering power and emotional coherence as they evolve.
As for the electronic music, that is wonderfully integrated into the fabric of the piece. The Voice of the god Apollo is, as it should be, imposing and mesmeric.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 10 Mar 2001
Format: Audio CD
This is a must for all who care about contemporary music. The score is an epic journey through the various versions of the Orpheus myth. There are passages of tender lyricism as well as hair-raising moments of terror. The work is simply a masterpiece.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 1 review
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Birtwistle's electro-acoustic lyric tragedy 10 Oct 2012
By Autonomeus - Published on
Format: Audio CD
I suppose the odds of my ever seeing Birtwistle's THE MASK OF ORPHEUS are next to nil, given that it has only been staged twice to my knowledge -- the 1986 premiere, and the 1996 performance which is what we hear on this 1999 NMC disc, both in London.

It's a shame, because I believe those who praise the work as one of the most important operas of the late 20th century, but like many other contemporary operas, it is not entirely effective without the visuals of the stage drama. The electro-acoustic sound, using an orchestra without any strings, is quite distinctive, but it stretches over three discs and cannot sustain interest without a clearer guide to the story which is presented only by the staging. If you listen to it for musical texture alone and disregard the lyrical content, one disc suffices. (Check out the extensive soundclips to hear what it sounds like.)

Birtwistle and his librettist Peter Zinovieff began working on ORPHEUS in 1973. Acts One and Two were written from 1973-1975, and Act Three was written in 1981-1983.

Disc One (Act One) -- 67'29
Disc Two (Act Two) -- 48'21
Disc Three (Act Three) -- 46'27

Andrew Davis and his assistant conductor Martyn Brabbins lead the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The liner notes identify every musician -- 4 flutes, 5 oboes, 4 clarinets, 3 soprano saxophones, 4 bassoons, 5 horns, 4 trumpets, 6 trombones, 2 tubas, 7 percussion, 3 harps, and 1 each electric guitar, bass guitar, electric mandolin, and sampler. Many of the musicians double on other instruments, including piccolo, bass flute, and bass clarinet. Simon Joly leads the BBC Singers. Two tenors sing the Orpheus parts, two mezzo-sopranos sing the Euridice parts, and two baritones and a soprano sing the Aristaeus parts. The electronic material was realized by Barry Anderson in association with IRCAM.

The problem with following the story is that it is not a linear narrative. Paul Griffiths is quoted in the liner notes by Birtwistle expert Jonathan Cross: " The Mask of Orpheus the old myth was observed as if in a broken mirror, or a troubled pool, elements of the story being repeated, or omitted, or distorted..." Cross goes on to describe a key part of the staged drama, which is not possible to discern in the audio recording: "One way in which this is achieved is through Orpheus, Euridice and Aristaeus each being assigned three roles: the Man/Woman, the Hero/Heroine, and the Myth played, respectively, by a singer, a mime and a giant singing puppet. All wear masks in order to emphasize the work's stylization... Orpheus Man dominates Act 1 and, as the work unfolds, the centre of gravity shifts progressively towards Orpheus Myth. Key events are presented more than once... Thus it is clear that another of the central concerns of the work is that of time itself: the exploration of a multiple present containing both past and future."

In trying to make sense of THE MASK OF ORPHEUS, I began thinking that it was complex, but that using the synopsis (there is not a complete libretto) and notes I could more or less figure it out. What I came to realize is that lacking the visuals of the three versions of the characters, identifiable by their different forms and masks, it is not difficult, it is impossible. So what the audio listener is left with is a very long experience over three discs that is interesting, but not consistently compelling.

The electronic component was painstakingly created using state-of-the-art technology as of the early 1980s. One pool of materials was created from four recordings of a harp -- two chords, and two single notes. "They were analyzed in the computer, resynthesized, and transformed," according to Ian Dearden's liner note. "Each act is characterized by electronic aurae created by hundreds of oscillators." The invented language of Apollo was created using the CHANT program which synthesizes the human voice. Dearden, who worked with Barry Anderson, goes into some detail describing all the elements of the strictly notated electronics in the score.

I consider Harrison Birtwistle to be not just one of the most important, but one of the best of contemporary composers. I have heard and reviewed many of his works, and I truly wish I could give THE MASK OF ORPHEUS five stars, as it is clearly one of his most crucial works. But lacking the staged drama, the listener is missing too much of the symbolism and complexity. I recommend The Minotaur, his more recent opera, on DVD, a Birtwistle rendering of a Greek myth with the visuals fully intact (see my review).
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