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Harrison Birtwistle - Earth Dances

Birtwistle: Earth Dances
Birtwistle’s exuberant, forty-minute orchestral showpiece, Earth Dances, takes its title and structure from a geological metaphor, dividing the orchestra into six different layers -- or “strata”, as the composer describes them -- whose shifting relationships evoke the massive natural forces which shape the planet. Sometimes the stata stack up immensely; at other moments, they thin to the most diaphanous textures; but always there is the sense of returning to the same point, only to discover that the view has changed in the interim. On top of these seismic musical processes, Birtwistle’s creates a virtuoso orchestral superstructure whose riotous details evoke the teeming surface life of the Earth in all its protean variety -- not so much English pastoralism as a kind of teeming musical rainforest.

CD Recommendations

Cleveland Orchestra; Ensemble Intercontemporain; BBC SO; BBC Philharmonic; Dohnányi; Boulez; Davis; Howarth; Whittlesey; Hardenberger; Harle (with Tragoedia; Secret Theatre; Three Settings of Celan; Endless Parade; Panic; Decca 468 804-2).

This two-CD set offers an excellent selection of some of Birtwistle’s finest works, spanning most of his career, including a lustrous account of Earth Dances, in which Christoph von Dohnányi’s aristocratic orchestra tussles mightily with the Lancastrian grit of one of Birtwistle’s grandest structures. The compilation also features fine accounts of the jazzy “concertos” for trumpet (Endless Parade) and saxophone (Panic), plus performances by Boulez and the Ensemble InterContemporain of Secret Theatre and the gutsy Tragoedia, although the latter work in particular suffers somewhat from Boulez’s softly-softly approach.

SheetMusic by Birtwistle