Roderick Williams / Nicholas Kok / BBC Singers / Nash Ensemble

Harrison Birtwistle: The Moth Requiem

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While Harrison Birtwistle's choral works have an apparent connection to Christian subjects, particularly in the Three Latin Motets (O bone Jesu, Pange lingua, and In supremae nocte cenae), the setting of the Easter poem Carmen Paschale, and the Christmas-themed Lullaby, his music is often as theatrical as it is seemingly liturgical. Indeed, the Three Latin Motets were drawn from Birtwistle's opera, The Last Supper, and the program of this Signum Classics CD is framed by two highly dramatic pieces, The Ring Dance of the Nazarene for baritone, choir, and ensemble, and The Moth Requiem, for choir, alto flute, and three harps. The angularity of melodic lines, asymmetrical and closely overlapping rhythms, and tight dissonances of the choral parts combine to put these pieces among the most difficult avant-garde music for choir, though adventurous listeners will be impressed by the consummate skill of the performers. Baritone Roderick Williams, the BBC Singers, and the Nash Ensemble, all conducted by Nicholas Kok, perform the works convincingly, and despite the complexity of Birtwistle's scores, the presentation is assured and polished. While this is rather esoteric music that doesn't communicate directly to a large audience, it has a haunting quality that invites closer study.

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