Coinciding with the composers 80th year, Harrison Birtwistle’s latest CD, recorded with the Nash ensemble, the BBC singers and conducted by Nicholas Kok and on the Signum Classics label, is a remarkable collection of pieces spanning some 50 years, beginning with Carmen Paschale (1965) and ending with the composers latest choral work, The Moth Requiem (2012).
The Moth Requiem, co-commissioned by the Netherlands Chamber Choir, Danish Radio and the BBC Singers, was first performed in 2012 in Amsterdam, receiving its UK premiere at the 2013 Proms. Birtwistle’s latest work has been extremely well received by both critics and the public alike, as has Nicholas Kok’s conducting, featuring both on the recording and at its UK debut. He has subsequently conducted the piece at the Wigmore Hall in March 2014 to great acclaim. Richard Fairman of the Financial Times described it as “an invigorating performance conducted by Nicholas Kok” whilst Colin Clarke of Opera Today wrote that Nicholas Kok’s “clarity as a conductor was a model of its kind.” Reviews for the UK premiere at Cadogan hall were equally enthusiastic, with Michael Church of The Independent hailing “a virtuoso performance.”
On disc The Moth Requiem is partnered by other choral works, all of which are recorded for the first time, including The Ring Dance of the Nazarene (2004) and On the Sheer Threshold of the Night (1980). Both composer and conductor have been highly praised for this key note recording, which received a five-starred review from Andrew Clements in The Guardian, who describes it as “an important, scrupulously presented collection,” whilst Steve Smith of The New York Times writes that the pieces are sung “Supremely well by the BBC singers.” Colin Clarke from Opera Today describes the piece as “a lovely idea, and masterfully realised. Birtwistle’s years of experience enabled him to weave an intoxicating sonic tapestry. The fragmenting of texture and musical material in the work’s final stages is impeccably timed. This is nothing short of a masterpiece.” It has also been named Editor’s Choice in Gramophone, where Stephen Plaistow describes it as an “extraordinary leap of imagination.” Others have called the work a “stunning” achievement, whilst George Hall, The Guardian, calls it “a fascinating addition to Birtwistle’s oeuvre.”