Nicolas Hodges

Harrison Birtwistle: The Axe Manual

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Anyone perplexed by Harrison Birtwistle's dense and often daunting orchestral music may want to try out this disc of his more transparent piano works for clarification of the methods he employs, his varied styles, and his development over five productive decades. From the early Oockooing Bird (ca. 1950) to the Saraband: The King's Farewell (2001), Birtwistle's career is intelligibly represented by several short piano pieces, which elucidate his progress from modal simplicity to experimental complexity. Newcomers may want to hear these tracks first to grasp the organic nature of Birtwistle's music, and then try out the CD's featured work. The Axe Manual for piano and percussion (2000) is the meatiest composition here, and Birtwistle's fans will be most interested in it, perhaps to the exclusion of the other slighter offerings. Rapid rhythmic exchanges between the piano and the percussion dominate the first and last sections of The Axe Manual, though the slow middle section is the most appealing for its ethereal "night music" qualities. Pianist Nicolas Hodges and percussionist Claire Edwardes are tightly synchronized in this performance, and execute the quick changes of timbres, dynamics, and attacks with impressive precision. Metronome's sound is clear and vibrant.

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