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  • Birtwistle: Tragoedia; Secret Theatre; Earth Dances; Panic etc
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Birtwistle: Tragoedia; Secret Theatre; Earth Dances; Panic etc

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£13.86 Only 1 left in stock. Dispatched from and sold by Virtuoso Classics.

Product details

  • Performer: Christine Whittlesey, Håkan Hardenberger
  • Orchestra: Ensemble InterContemporain, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra
  • Conductor: Pierre Boulez, Elgar Howarth, Andrew Davis
  • Composer: Harrison Birtwistle
  • Audio CD (14 May 2001)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Decca
  • ASIN: B00005IA6D
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 92,188 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.

Disc 1:

Song TitleArtist Time Price
Listen  1. Birtwistle: Tragoedia - PrologueEnsemble InterContemporain 1:38£0.79  Buy MP3 
Listen  2. Birtwistle: Tragoedia - ParadosEnsemble InterContemporain 2:15£0.79  Buy MP3 
Listen  3. Birtwistle: Tragoedia - Episodion: Strophe I - Anapaest IEnsemble InterContemporain 3:49£0.79  Buy MP3 
Listen  4. Birtwistle: Tragoedia - Antistrophe IEnsemble InterContemporain 1:34£0.79  Buy MP3 
Listen  5. Birtwistle: Tragoedia - StasimonEnsemble InterContemporain 2:23£0.79  Buy MP3 
Listen  6. Birtwistle: Tragoedia - Episodion: Strophe II - Anapaest IIEnsemble InterContemporain 3:50£0.79  Buy MP3 
Listen  7. Birtwistle: Tragoedia - Antistrophe IIEnsemble InterContemporain 2:21£0.79  Buy MP3 
Listen  8. Birtwistle: Tragoedia - ExodosEnsemble InterContemporain 2:45£0.79  Buy MP3 
Listen  9. Birtwistle: Five Distances - For Five InstrumentsEnsemble InterContemporain13:57£1.89  Buy MP3 
Listen10. Birtwistle: Three Settings Of Celan - 1. White And LightEnsemble InterContemporain 5:12£0.79  Buy MP3 
Listen11. Birtwistle: Three Settings Of Celan - 2. NightEnsemble InterContemporain 3:33£0.79  Buy MP3 
Listen12. Birtwistle: Three Settings Of Celan - 3. TenebraeEnsemble InterContemporain 4:52£0.79  Buy MP3 
Listen13. Birtwistle: Secret TheatreEnsemble InterContemporain27:54£3.39  Buy MP3 

Disc 2:

Song TitleArtist Time Price
Listen  1. Birtwistle: Endless Parade for Trumpet, Vibraphone and StringsBBC Philharmonic Orchestra19:27£2.59  Buy MP3 
Listen  2. Birtwistle: PanicPaul Clarvis18:25£2.29  Buy MP3 
Listen  3. Birtwistle: Earth DancesThe Cleveland Orchestra36:52£4.49  Buy MP3 

Product Description


This is an admirable introduction to the music of Harrison Birtwistle, an important contemporary composer whose discography should ideally be much larger. Some of Birtwistle's most significant non-operatic scores are presented here in uniformly expert performances. Pierre Boulez, that staunchest supporter of modern music, directs the Ensemble Intercontemporain in the arresting Trageodia (a piece constructed on the formal structures of Greek tragedy), the Stravinskian Five Distances, the starkly dramatic Three Settings of Celan and Secret Theatre. In this latter work, Boulez brings out the drama in the score while simultaneously managing the delicate tracery of the parts to perfection. The second disc contains some of Birtwistle's most powerful music to date. In Endless Parade (inspired by a visit to Lucca and a procession he saw there), the trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger displays almost superhuman stamina. The sound world of this piece is continued in Panic, a piece which provoked outrage following its Proms premiere in 1995. It is certainly unremitting in its demands on the listener. But, orchestrally, Earth Dances remains Birtwistle's masterpiece to date and the Cleveland Orchestra under Dohnányi gives a monumental account. The confidence of Birtwistle's writing is overwhelming. This set represents a true bargain: the music will richly reward repeated hearings. --Colin Clarke

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 22 Jun. 2001
Format: Audio CD
I came to Harrison Birtwhistle's music as someone drawn in by BBC Radio 3's increasingly diverse musical policy, in particular through a season which included many of the pieces included here.
My own musical background is in industrial/avante garde rock, so the strangeness and superficial 'difficulty' in the sound is, if anything, an attraction, but the underlying complexity and - even - lushness of this music is a revalation. I've encountered music that attempts moods of mystery, reflective melancholy and ritual invocation before, but nothing where technical accomplishment and execution live up to the artist's conception to such overpowering effect.
. . and here are one hundred and fifty minutes of performances, for the price of a single CD! By all accounts, this offers a superb introduction to the range of Birtwhistle's work.
If you're looking for a way in, the earth opens here.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John Ferngrove TOP 500 REVIEWER on 27 May 2011
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
There are arguably two places to start with Birtwistle's music; either with the epochal meta-operatic ritual theatre of The Mask of Orpheus, or this, which is a representative overview of his creative timeline. There is no point in pretending that Birtwistle's music is easy, whether as music, or emotionally, or even conceptually. Everyday human emotions like pleasure, joy or romance are entirely absent. The drama of human life, placed firmly in the context of nature is essential to just about everything he does. His work is often described as violent, and while there is violence there, it is more often than not more evocative of tough, gruelling labour, as though hefting a pickaxe through flinty soil, to find Viking treasure. Landscape is omnipresent; English, British, or just generically Northern. These are not the bounteous willow lands of the English pastoralists, but the ancient rocky bones of landscapes laid bare by geological aeons of weather and upheaval.

Musically, rhythm, or what he calls pulse, is the central element in Birtwistle's language. His underlying rhythms are frequently highly irregular, seeming to stumble, and demanding great attention from the listener to keep up with. Such rhythms are often juxtaposed in more or less comfortable polyrhythmic counterpoint. Mercurial mid-ground layers may thread through these huge skeletons, while the foreground is typically erratic and highly unstable, with melody as such, largely dispensed with. Exotic harmonies and diverse sonic effects, often utilising a broad variety of percussion, create tapestries that are at once highly modernistic and yet brimming with prehistoric resonances.
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By Shaun Ogle on 4 Feb. 2015
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Terrific value and a great introduction to HB's catalogue.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4 reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The Phenomenal Birtwistle. 20 April 2004
By Herma R. Woodward - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
The music of Harrison Birtwistle is suprisingly hard to get on record in America. As one of the most important British composers of the 20th century after Britten it would seem that access to his music would be easy and yet it is incredibly difficult. I am not sure if this is a problem of American distribution/interest or if he is just a rarely recorded artist.
Either way this amazing recording makes amends. Six large, crucial works are represented here performed by world class artists producing what can only be considered definative performances. Especially nice about this collection is that works from the composer's entire (and long) career are presented, offering the listener a chanceto hear where the composer came fromand where he's going.
Names like Ligeti, Maxwell-Davies and Feldman come to mind. The music is huge in scope and emotional power and leaves the listener drained. "Birtwistle's music sounds like planets colliding, even if he's only using five instruments."
If you enjoy this CD listen to AGM which can be found on a wonderful collection of works conducted by Boulez.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A flawed introduction to one of the best contemporary composers 8 July 2004
By Autonomeus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
When I first heard this 2-disc Birtwistle profile set, part of Decca's series called The British Music Collection, I was decidedly underwhelmed. It took me several years to realize that the problem was in the performance, not the compositions. The liner notes are minimal, so the listener must look elsewhere for information on the compositions.

The first disc contains four pieces recorded in 1993, with Pierre Boulez leading his Ensemble InterContemporain. (The original disc is still available from DG under the title "Secret Theatre.") The best of these is "Tragoedia" (1965 -- 20'33), which established Birtwistle's characteristic sound and reputation -- a tragic work in the form of a ritual, reflecting the influence of both Stravinsky and of drama. "Five Distances for Five Instruments" (1993 -- 13'52) features one of Birtwistle's most characteristic types of instrumentation -- woodwinds (clarinet, oboe, flute, horn and bass clarinet). Birtwistle began as a clarinettist. "Three Settings of Celan" (1989-1996 -- 13'32) continues the lugubrious tone with Christine Whittlesey singing soprano. By 1996 Birtwistle would complete nine settings, and they would be combined with string quartet pieces in Pulse Shadows, which was recorded by Claron McFadden with the Nash Ensemble and the Arditti Quartet.

Finally comes "Secret Theatre" (1984 -- 27'48) which is painfully dull. I first thought it was the composition, but I recently heard the 1987 recording by the London Sinfonietta, and it is absolutely splendid! This performance drains all the vitality out of the piece. It plods grimly along while the London Sinfonietta dances. This one takes place in an airless vault while the other is outdoors in a glade with the wind blowing through the ensemble. Boulez and the Ensemble InterContemporain utterly fail to capture the work's rhythmic dynamism and liveliness, while the London Sinfonietta, led by Birtwistle's old friend Elgar Howarth, reveals its immense appeal.

The second disc is much better. "Endless Parade" (19'25), featuring Hakan Hardenberger on trumpet, is lively enough, though not particularly distinctive. "Panic" (18'21) from the great god Pan, featuring John Harle on alto sax and Paul Clarvis on drums was a big scandal at the Last Night of Proms in 1995, though you'd think the scandal would be playing the same 19th century stuff over and over and over again! It is not at all typical of Birtwistle, but it is a powerful piece with an avant-jazz sound, and the listener can't help but think about the Proms crowd's hostile reaction. The highlight, though, is "Earth Dances" (1986 -- 36'26), performed by the Cleveland Orchestra with Christoph von Dohnanyi conducting. One of Birtwistle's masterpieces, it is powerful, dissonant and forbidding, with six jagged layers of orchestra forming the structure, like a rugged, geological "Gruppen." If this was the only recording available it would be impressive enough, but it has been altogether surpassed by the 2001 recording with Pierre Boulez leading the Ensemble Modern Orchestra in Frankfurt (see my review). This time Boulez took Birtwistle's measure!

This set was my introduction to Birtwistle back in 2002. I was under the false impression that he was a serialist, based, I suppose, on the Boulez connection -- a dull and largely boring one. But now I have heard many more of his compositions and have come to consider him one of very best contemporary composers. Far from being dull or generic, Birtwistle has a powerfully distinctive voice unique in all of music!

This set is flawed, but still worth hearing. I would recommend either the London Sinfonietta or Ensemble Modern discs mentioned above as better introductions, or the excellent 1974 Lyrita disc that was recently reissued (see my review), with two superb vocal works bookending one of Birtwistle's masterpieces, "Verses for Ensembles."

(verified purchase from Amazon.co.uk)
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Ranges from dull to fairly entertaining, but never really stands out above the crowd of modernists 6 Feb. 2007
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Harrison Birtwistle, one of England's few overtly modernistic figures, is one of the most unlikely composers to appear on a Decca recording, but here he is thanks to the "British Music Collection" series.

The first disc contains four pieces performed by the Ensemble Intercontemporain and Pierre Boulez, a reissue of material which originally appeared on Deutsche Grammophon in 1996. The early "Tragoedia" (1965) is the most interesting of them. A reference to Greek ceremonies connected to Pan (being literally a goat, trag- song, -oedia), the eight movements of the work follow classical nomenclature, write strophes, anapests, and antistrophes. It moves from soundworld to soundworld along its twenty-minute span, from simple Romanticism to a minimalistic ostinato reminescent of some Reich, to the sort of smooth modernistic textures of later composers like Lindberg. Yet, it's still remarkably coherent.

I wish I such much positive about the other pieces on the disc. "Five Distances" for five instruments (1992), a wind quintet, has nothing especially upsetting, but lacks direction and resembles the generic modernism of Lieberson, or Eotvos as his worst. The "Three Settings of Celan" for ensemble and soprano, here Christine Whittlesey, are taken from a total set of nine such pieces composed between 1989 and 1996, manage to make a poet as intriguing and bizarre as Celan dull and forgettable. Finally, "Secret Theatre" (1984) promises to finally escape this "serialist assembly-line" as a fellow reviewer has called it, and seems to build at something with the low instruments, but never manages.

The second disc contains more entertaining material, beginning with two concertante works. "Endless Parade" for piano, vibraphone, and strings (1986-87) is performed here by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Elgar Howarth, with Hakan Hardenberger as soloist. Based on a visit Birtwistle made to Lucca during a time of festival, the piece could be seen to portray a man, here the trumpet, walking through a procession and examining the action from various angles. It's fairly entertaining, with a mood much like Peter Eotvos' similarly-inspired trumpet concerto "Jet Stream".

The following "Panic" for saxophone, drum-kit and orchestra (1995) is perhaps 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, and I found the music enjoyable, but rather forgettable after it ends.

All in all, I could only give this all three stars. Birtwistle's only real crime is the dullness that pervades much of his work--he's certainly less guilty than the truly bad composers I might venture to name--but I can't recommend too highly his work when others have engaged modernism to produce truly exciting music.
contemporary greatness 25 Feb. 2015
By C. Blyth - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Excellent representation of one of the most original composers of our time.
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