Birmingham Contemporary Music Group / Thomas Adès

Gerald Barry: The Importance of Being Earnest

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AllMusic Review by

The recognition given this album by U.S. Grammy nominators at the end of 2015 should perform the welcome service of exposing listeners to a highly enjoyable work. You need to get a taste to get an idea of what Barry's treatment is like; the album is decidedly not recommended to those wanting a faithful reproduction of Oscar Wilde's late Victorian farce. Instead, composer Gerald Barry uses Wilde as a jumping-off point for a mad caper that's equal parts Gilbert & Sullivan patter song, Looney Tunes, fun-poking at modernist music and Germanic tradition (sample track four, "Freude, schöner Götterfunken," which recurs several times throughout the two-act opera), and sheer anarchy. What might stop the opera from attaining general currency is that it's actually quite difficult to perform; the singers have to blaze through tightly packed (or heavily drawn-out) syllables while keeping their place among blasting brasses, a megaphone, and at one point breaking plates. Lady Bracknell's part is given to a bass, posing challenges that Alan Ewing surmounts with smart energy, and the rest of the singers in this concert presentation from 2012 handle the difficulties well. A good measure of the credit goes to Thomas Adès, here in the unusual role of conductor, who keeps things moving at a hair-trigger pace. This opera is a great deal of fun, and it offers many possibilities for future productions: a television version could work wonders if done right.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
The Importance of Being Earnest
1 01:15
2 04:36
3 03:29
4 01:15 Amazon
5 02:56
6 01:58
7 02:05 Amazon
8 02:10
9 01:24
10 01:26
11 02:42
12 03:31
13 00:19
14 03:18 Amazon
15 01:08
16 02:44
17 01:08 Amazon
18 02:00
19 02:51
20 03:32
21 01:12 Amazon
22 03:49
23 02:31
24 02:34 Amazon
25 00:51
26 02:49
27 02:32
28 02:09
29 01:42
30 01:21
31 01:10
32 01:26
33 01:08
34 01:49
35 02:18
36 01:48
37 02:33
blue highlight denotes track pick