Thursday 14 August 2014

Harrison Birtwistle Chamber Music

Harrison Birtwistle CHamber Music
Harrison Birtwistle Chamber Music; Lisa Batiashvili, Adrian Brendel, Till Fellner, Amy Freston, Roderick Williams; ECM New Series
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Aug 08 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Selection of Harrison Birtistle's recent chamber works

The unimaginatively entitled 'Harrison Birtwistle Chamber Music' on ECM New Series, with its somewhat dull, blue black cover, does not do this CD justice. Released as part of the celebrations of Birtwistle's (1934-) 80th year it features the trio of Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili, English cellist Adrian Brendel and Austrian pianist Till Fellner. The trio is joined by London-born soprano, Amy Freston and baritone Roderick Williams.

All four works on the album have been written in the last 16 years and consequently are in a newer style rather than being representative of the composer's life.
Settings of the poems of American Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970) begin and end the CD. Niedecker was a member of the Objectivist poets who strove to write with sincerity, intelligence, and a clarity of world view that they felt was lacking in contemporary works. Scored for soprano and cello the first three were written in 1998, the final nine in 2000.

Amy Freston
Amy Freston
Here Freston's voice floats above the cello line, delicately poised and supremely controlled, spinning quietly. The two lines moving independently yet enhancing each other producing a lovely blend. The later set have more of a interactive feel – 'My life' is especially beautiful with the voice and cello dripping like drops of water and hopping around with the rabbits of spring.

'Bogenstrich – Meditations on a poem of Rilke' was originally written in 2006 as 'Leid ohne Worte' in tribute to composer, pianist and poet Alfred Brendel (1931-). First performed by Fellner and Alfred Brendel's son, Adrian, it was further expanded over the next three years into the piece with baritone heard here.

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), who was the starting point for this composition, was a German poet whose work was also famously set by other composers such as Paul Hindemith and Morten Lauridsen.

Roderick Williams
Roderick Williams
Somewhat dreamily, this song cycle drifts along. Williams' voice is satin over the angular structures of the instruments. Here and there the cello takes over the passionate role, only to float into harmonics, before returning to solidity. Sometimes percussive, the piano uses the extremes of its range, at times producing a wobbling dissonance with the timbre of temple bells.

'Trio' for violin, cello and piano, is the newest work on the CD. Premiered in 2011, its first performance also included Brendel and Fellner but, although it was written for this trio, Batiashvili was ill and the violin part was played by Corey Cerovsek - so this CD contains the performance as envisaged by Birtwistle.

Never dull, this performance of 'Trio' demands attention from the listener. From a lively piano figure this too drifts along dreamily, settling into a conversation between cello and violin, supported by piano. The single movement is 16 minutes long but keeps moving with changes in speed and dynamic, and contrasts between the various characters the instruments take on.

This is not a complete compendium of Birtwistle's chamber works, nor does it cover his entire compositional life. But as a snapshot of the power of his work in a quietly calm style, not necessarily thought of being Birtwistle, it has its own beauty.
Reviewed by Hilary Glover

Harrison Birtwistle Chamber Music
Lisa Batiashvili (violin)
Adrian Brendel (cello)
Till Fellner (piano)
Amy Freston (soprano)
Roderick Williams (baritone)
Recorded 14 April 2014) at Herkulessaal, Munich
ECM New Series 2253 1 CD [01:05:26]

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