Tuesday, September 16, 2003


Nick Kimbereley (The London Evening Standard) on the Harrison Birtwistle European premiere on Friday night, 12 September 2003. This is another work with roots in Durer's painting 'Melancolia', incidentally. Musically, it is based in part on John Dowland's 'In Darkness Let Me Dwell'.

"Those who equate Birtwistle with shreiking modernism might have been mollified by 'The Shadow of the Night', which opened the Proms' last-but-one night. This was Birtwistle at his most sensuous, the music's progress simultaneously anguished and gorgeous, with melodies aplenty, albeit not of the singalong type. Mournful glissandos from low strings opened proceedings, the brass responding with distant moans. A brief trombone motif was passed around and reassembled; the piccolo turned it into an extended cry, clearing the way for a succession of fletingly lyrical solos. The Philharmonia Orchestra and conductor Christoph Dohnanyi played with loving dedication." (c) Nick Kimberley.

It was Dohnanyi, of course, who led the Cleveland Orchestra in the premiere of Birtwistle's earlier orchestral tour-de-force, 'Earth Dances'. Lasting some 25 minutes, 'The Shadow of the Night' is a far more remorseful (and less astringent, frenetic) proposition. But I suspect it will carry the same critical weight in the future. Andrew Clements adds: "'The Shadow of Night' is generally subdued and sombrely coloured, linear in its musical development, where the earlier work is fundamentally cubist."

The world premiere of 'Shadow' was given at Carnegie Hall, New York, on January 24 and 25, 2002. It is reviewed by Classics Today here.

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