HARRISON BIRTWISTLE (b.1934): Angel Fighter for Countertenor, Tenor, Chorus and Orchestra, In Broken Images, Virelai (Sus une fontayne).
Catalogue Number: 07R053
Description: Angel Fighter sets the Biblical story of Jacob wrestling with the angel as a quasi-operatic scena to a libretto by Birtwistle's sometime collaborator, Stephen Plaice. The 2010 work is full of the familiar Birtwistle features - unstable, abrasive harmonies, fractured, percussive sounds (despite the orchestra being without percussion), a sense of being propelled by strange, whirling, not quite stable or perfectly functioning mechanisms. The work has the dynamic narrative and sense of archaic ritual, the rules of which aren not fully underwood by the participants, that characterises the composer's full-scale operatic works. Broken Images, from the following year, is a typical Birtwistle large-scale structure that works out its narrative through the inexorable progression of overlapping discrete, fractured, or 'broken' episodes. The orchestra is divided into four sections in the manner of antiphonal works of the Renaissance. Diverse elements of sonority, tempo, degree of dissonance and so on interact, intersect and move apart again like components in one of the composer's mysterious mechanisms, increasingly assembling themselves into a functioning machine of inexorable power and undetermined purpose at the work's extended, rhythmically dynamic climax, before rapidly disconnecting and dissipating thereafter, with a last paroxysm of random activity amid an overall feeling of winding down. The little encore piece is a transcription into unmistakably Birtwistlean orchestration of a virelai by the obscure fourteenth century composer Johannes Ciconia. Texts included. BBC Singers, London Sinfonietta; David Atherton.