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Birtwistle - Orpheus Elegies - Three Bach Arias

Birtwistle - Orpheus Elegies - Three Bach Arias-Voices
ID: CC2020 (EAN: 5023581202026)  | 1 CD | DDD
Released in: 2009
Oboe Classics
BACH, Johann Sebastian | BIRTWISTLE, Harrison
FULLBROOK, Ben | MAXWELL, Melinda (oboe / ) | SEATON, Claire (soprano) | STAFFORD, William (clarinet / bass clarinet) | TUNSTALL, Helen (harp) | VERITY, Tom (clarinet / bass clarinet) | WATTS, Andrew (2) (counter-tenor)
Other info:

Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s compositional life from the mid 1970s to the 1980s was dominated by his opera The Mask of Orpheus, and the same period saw the origin of the Elegies, written for Melinda Maxwell and Helen Tunstall while they were working with the composer at the National Theatre.
‘They are like enchanted preludes…Enchantingly performed here’ The Sunday Times

The 24-page full colour CD booklet has a 6,000 word programme note in English including details of the Orpheus myth and Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus, an interview with Sir Harrison Birtwistle, and a detailed track-by-track
guide, including translations. There are biographies of all the players and many photographs.

Introduction by Melinda Maxwell:

The myth of Orpheus and his music has occupied Sir Harrison Birtwistle (universally known as Harry) for most of his life, and the 26 Orpheus Elegies for oboe, harp and counter-tenor are a further comment in miniature on that myth. They are a re-telling of the story, and the mystery and power that surrounds an imagined music of Orpheus; music that represents a combination of the ethereal - Apollo - and the earthly - Dionysius; music that seduced creation itself with its power of expression.

The Sonnets to Orpheus by Rainer Maria Rilke, known to Harry for a long time, gradually became part of the composition process, and as the music was being written certain words and phrases from those sonnets seemed to clarify and strengthen the meaning of the music.

In time, Harry found that for some of the Elegies, a phrase was not enough. In Elegies 11, 13 and 14 the sonnets are set for voice in their entirety. The voice part is for counter -tenor and written for Andrew Watts. In Elegies 17, 20 and 26 portions of a sonnet are sung. For the remaining twenty Elegies, a phrase taken from a sonnet is written at the end of the instrumental music. For example, Elegy 12 (CD track 16) is fast, manic, rhythmic and repetitive, and the written words are the penultimate line of Sonnet number 5 from Rilke's first set: "the lyre's bars do not constrain his hands". As an aside these words add further meaning to the music, and the music evokes the atmosphere of the words.

Early on in the compositional process, Harry asked me about unusual sounds on the oboe, sounds encompassing harmonics and multiphonics (combinations of sounds that speak together forming chords that have unusual pitch formations and are mostly non-diatonic). I played some to him and wrote down those he liked. He particularly liked pitches that transformed and hung into multiphonics In Elegy 7 these sounds are used almost exclusively, to produce a music that is eerie and other-worldly, finishing with Rilke's words "[He emerged like] ore from the stone's silence". In the very first Elegy based around the note E, Birtwistle uses a double harmonic of an open fifth on E to splice, enrich and delve inside the sound, reaching further depths of expression. Rilke's words for this stark opening are "A tree has risen. Oh pure transcendence!".

Three of the Elegies use metronomes, and these give out a mechanical, inevitable, sense to the music. Elegy 25 uses two metronome pulses at slightly different speeds; Rilke's words are "Does time, the wrecker, really exist?".

The idea for the piece began in the late 1970s when Harry and I and the harpist Helen Tunstall were working at the National Theatre in London, and he expressed the wish to write a piece for oboe and harp. The first draft was written for the 2003 Cheltenham Festival, although not all the Elegies were completed and it was still a work in progress. Certain revisions and further additions ensued, and a longer version appeared in the 2004 Cheltenham Festival. Betty Freeman paid for the commission and Heinz and Ursula Holliger gave the world premičre with Andrew Watts at the Lucerne Festival in September 2004. The London premičre was given by myself, Helen and Andrew in October 2004 at the South Bank.

Throughout many rehearsals and subsequent performances in the UK and at the Holland (2006) and Bregenz (2007) Festivals, Harry offered further insights into our interpretations of phrase, nuance, pace and dynamics, and this recording is the culmination of this entire process. It is a piece full of contrasting voices, from music that is by turns warm, tender, almost wistful, and also bold, relentless, sometimes violent. Each Elegy speaks with its own voice, and such is the power of the composer's invention one feels that many more could follow.
BIRTWISTLE, Harrison (b. 1934) 
1. Elegy 12:41 
2. Elegy 31:54 
3. Elegy 41:37 
4. Elegy 141:39 
5. Elegy 21:10 
6. Elegy 60:59 
7. Elegy 8, "See, the machine:"0:57 
8. Elegy 11, "Only who ate with the dead ... 
9. Elegy 10, "Beautiful playmate of the invincible cry." 03:021:33 
10. Elegy 261:05 
11. Elegy 15, "And everything was her sleep."0:39 
12. Elegy 180:42 
13. Elegy 51:06 
14. Elegy 134:54 
15. Elegy 211:16 
16. Elegy 120:38 
17. Elegy 171:57 
18. Elegy 71:31 
19. Elegy 22, "In the timber-frames of gloomy bell-lofts let yourself chime."1:30 
20. Elegy 251:00 
21. Elegy 231:23 
22. Elegy 90:57 
23. Elegy 240:44 
24. Elegy 160:27 
25. Elegy 20, "In the end they broke you, driven by vengeance,"2:36 
26. Elegy 191:26 
Melinda Maxwell (oboe),Helen Tunstall (harp), Andrew Watts (counter-tenor) 
BACH, Johann Sebastian (1685-1750) 
27. Seufzer, Thränen, Kummer, Noth from the Cantata, Ich Hatte viel Bekümmernis, BWV 21 (1713)4:34 
28. Weh der Seele, die den Schaden from the Cantata , Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben, BWV 102 (1726)4:50 
29. Komm, lass mich nicht länger warten from the Cantata, Erschallet, ihr Lieder, BWV 172 (1714)4:11 
Melinda Maxwell (oboe/cor anglais), Helen Tunstall (harp), Andrew Watts (counter-tenor), Claire Seaton (soprano), William Stafford and Tom Verity (clarinets/bass clarinets) and Ben Fullbrook (marimba) 


Wary of Harrison Birtwistle in bulk? Try him in miniature in these 26 musings on his recurring obsession... He's still a thorny composer, though brevity and simplicity of means generate immediate rewards... Even the booklet notes are splendid."
Geoff Brown, The Times

"The range of musical processes and the power with which Birtwistle invests the wtriting is extraordinary. The pieces seem like snapshots from different perspectives of some vast, barely graspable musical object... This is a fabulously committed, expressively pliable performance, and the arrangements of three arias from Bach cantatas that Birtwistle made as a companion piece... is the perfect complement."
Andrew Clements, BBC Music Magazine

"All three performers, in recordings that balance exemplary clarity of focus with finely sculpted detail, are wholly 'inside' the piece's flexible yet inexorable formal design, which the composer describes in the admirably detailed booklet notes as 'like postcards with cryptic text'."
Arnold Whittall, Gramophone


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