HARRISON BIRTWISTLE (b.1934): Night's Black Bird, The Shadow of Night, The Cry of Anubis for Tuba and Orchestra.
Catalogue Number: 10N068
Description: An essential disc for admirers of this most uncompromising of contemporary composers. Searching for terms with which to describe Birtwistle's music, annotators invariably resort to evocations of the works' monumentality, inexorability, darkness, melancholy, and above all perhaps, a sense of the archaic, of vast expanses of natural, circular time. The two orchestral tone-poems occupy exactly this shadowy, alien terrain, caring little for the transitory human figures that flit across its surface. The superb Shadow of Night from 2001 is an extended nocturne in slow tectonic motion, punctuated by the jagged batholithic intrusions and fitful luminescence that instantly identify the composer, whose sense of orchestral sonority must be among the most individual and instantly recognizable of any of our time. Three years later, Night's Black Bird sounds like a concise companion piece, a terse reflection on similar material, more focused on its primary imagery. The tuba concerto, (perhaps unsurprisingly!) evokes the jackal-headed god of the ancient Egyptian underworld; the work opens in characteristically tenebrous territory, a slow, inevitable descent that recalls the much earlier, still terrifying, Triumph of Time. Unusually for Birtwistle, though, the music suddenly speeds up into - dare one say it? - an almost Romantic sense of concertante dialogue between the soloist and orchestra, followed by some melodically beautiful writing, an agitated (but astonishingly consonant!) climax, an accompanied cadenza, and a definite sense of resolution at the work's close. Owen Slade (tuba), The Hallé; Ryan Wigglesworth.