Lebrecht Weekly: Harrison Birtwistle: Chamber works (BIS)

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Into every musical life, a little Birtwistle must fall. Do not read anything pejorative into that statement. I have been smitten by the British composer’s major works for half my life and if some of them can test one’s patience on first hearing they usually deliver rewards on repetition.

Birtwistle is an acquired taste. He works hard at complex textures and does not readily produce long lyrical lines. He is a one-off, a loner, an original, a man on an unmarked path in an untrodden field.

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Truth to tell, I was a little deterred by a full-length compilation album of his chamber music of the last ten years,  not least because the Birtwistle I know is full-on orchestral and I feared the small stuff might be ascetic.

Not a bit of it. A 2011 trio for violin cello and piano is as agreeable as one of Beethoven’s, albeit with tougher phrases and a bit ruder around the edges. I did not warm greatly to a Duet for 8 Strings, which seemed a bit like in-talk, and Pulse Sampler of 1981, revised in 2018, is showing its age. But the concluding Oboe Quartet is a  right little cracker, an evening’s chit-chat in a snug bar with plenty of gossip to exchange. The musicians, members of the Nash Ensemble, are plainly having fun. They include violist Lawrence Power, cellist Adrian Brendel, pianist Tim Horton and oboist Melinda Maxwell. Birtwistle, 88 this year, is still writing.

NL

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About Author

Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review // Norman Lebrecht est un rédacteur prolifique couvrant les événements musicaux et Slipped Disc, est un des plus populaires sites de nouvelles culturelles. Il anime The Lebrecht Interview sur la BBC Radio 3 et collabore à plusieurs publications, dont The Wall Street Journal et The Standpoint. Vous pouvez lire ses critiques de disques chaque vendredi.

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