BIRTWISTLE Theseus Game Boulez 4770702

. . . the ear is taken on a mystery ride through a landscape of tangled textures and sudden, overwhelming climaxes, with signposts provided by recurring pitches that function a bit like tonal centres, and musical ideas that recur in the course of the piece, altered each time as if being seen from different perspectives. But "Earth Dances" is also great drama -- its bold gestures and sense of theatricality led directly to the musical world of the opera "Gawain", which was his next large-scale project. That sense is vividly communicated in Pierre Boulez' perfomance . . . the technical challenge and problems of balance, it goes without saying, Boulez takes in his stride, and that allows him to concentrate on projecting larger-scale architecture and the powerful inevitability of the music's argument. It's a compelling performance.

In these live recordings, the Ensemble Modern plays superbly, under Martin Brabbins and Pierre-André Valade in "Theseus Games", and under Pierre Boulez, no less, in "Earth and Dances".

Classical CD of the Week . . . each work combines a modern but melodic aesthetic with elemental mythic power to justify Birtwistle's reputation as 'the most forceful and uncompromisingly original British composer of his generation'.

Separately, the two pieces on this CD deliver an immensely powerful musical experience; heard back to back, the experience is overwhelming . . . ("Earth Dances" is) like geology represented in sound; we hear the thunderous collision of musical layers, all moving at different speeds. Pierre Boulez's wonderfully subtle recording is less concerned to overwhelm with sheer force than others I have heard. If you're game for a musical adventure, it would be hard to find another contemporary CD to beat this one.

DG's 20/21 series has been quick to include Birtwistle's remarkable "Theseus Game". This is the 2003 world premiere and vivid it sounds. The complexity of conception -- a Theseus-like journey through the maze of a bifurcated ensemble, each group playing at its own tempo and furnishing soloists who sustain an Ariadne's thread of "endless melody" -- is extreme even by Birtwistle's standards. On disc one has little sense of the bi-conductorly scenario, but Martyn Brabbins and Pierre-André Valade, helped by the balance engineers, make the textures crystal clear and the work's narrative intensity is fierce.

"Earth Dances" (1985-86) makes an appropriate coupling. Here, too, there is opposition between a volcanic life force of jagged rhythms and harsh harmonies and aspirations to a gentler, more melodic world of finer human feelings. In this, its third recording, Pierre Boulez leads a measure, alert traversal of the score's labyrinthine highways and byways, and a boldly delineated sound-picture ensures that the music's apocalyptic evolution comes over as devastatingly as ever.

. . . that Frankfurt concert, superbly recorded here, shows Boulez putting line, movement and melos before precision and detail.

This is a quality thrown into sharper focus by "Earth Dances" (1986) ż Birtwistle's most potent redefining of landscape . . . the inexorable momentum that eluded Peter Eötvös: one which brings cohesion to music whose avoidance of goal-directed logic should not be construed as formal randomness. Stylishly presented, this is an instructive way into Birtwistle and an enviable calling-card for the Ensemble Modern and Orchestra, warranting investigation by initiates and newcomers alike.

Two of Birtwistle's finest scores on one disc, with top-notch conducting from Pierre Boulez.

If anything will bring sceptics round to the genius of Birtwistle, it's this CD. It contains his orchestral masterpiece "Earth Dances" in a stunning performance which brings out the many-layered subtlety of the music. Alongside it is "Theseus Games", an enthralling musical landscape that needs two conductors to unravel its complexities. Again, the performance is exemplary.

Like a modern Mussorgsky, Birtwistle treats melody and rhythm and form with naďve freshness, as if he's discovering them for the first time . . . The idea of rhythmic layers . . . is more elaborately expressed in "Theseus Games", a recent piece recorded on DG's 20/21 new music series . . . The result is lucid and exciting but the real masterpiece on the CD is "Earth Dances" from 1986. This version from Pierre Boulez and the Ensemble Intercontemporain is more subtle than the older one on Decca, less reliant on sheer power.

Sein berühmtestes Werk aber sind die 1986 erstaufgeführten "Earth Dances", die Pierre Boulez gerade in einer Neuaufnahme vorgelegt hat (DG): mal lasziv und jazzig in den Hüften wiegend, mal apokalyptisch sich aufbäumend, dann zärtlich sich am eigenen Dasein freuend oder wie ein Vulkan brodelnd und Erdschichten ineinander schiebend -- ein definitives Meisterwerk.

Gewaltige, urtümliche rhythmische Energien treiben die geheimnisumwitterten Ereignisse in "Earth Dances" . . . Das Ensemble Modern sowie die zum großen Orchester erweiterte Formation geben den Werken im glühendem Spiel Intensität, Tiefe und Ausdruckskraft.

kollegial-kongenial interpretiert

Knurrend und fauchend wie ein unablässig Feuer spuckendes Monstrum aus dem Geiste strawinskyscher Rhythmik, schlagen diese Tänze einen in ihren Bann. Absolut frisch und genauestens einstudiert, beeindruckt diese Einspielung durch Kennerschaft und Empathie ż echter Boulez eben. Das gilt genauso für das theatralische Ensemblewerk "Theseus Games", das den Geist des Dramas in einem kunstvoll verzahnten Handlungsstrang zum Leben erweckt: ein musikalisches Wechselspiel aus grimmiger Urzeitlichkeit und zärtlicher Poesie fragiler Tongespinste.

Martyn Brabbins et Pierre-André Valade livrent une exécution particuličrement aboutie, dont la maîtrise est d'autant plus remarquable qu'il s'agit d'une captation live lors de la création. Le jeu de désynchronisation variable entre les deux groupes est idéalement rendu, ainsi que la différenciation des plans sonores. "Earth Dances" est une figuration de la tectonique des plaques. L'instabilité rythmique, principe fondateur de l'oeuvre, ne brouille jamais la lisibilité du discours -- impossible de rester indifférent ŕ un tel boillonnement énergétique. Aprčs Dohnányi et Eötvös, Boulez porte l'interprétation de ce chef-d'oeuvre ŕ un nouveau stade d'efficacité, sá précision servant non seulement le ciselé d'un magnifique objet musical, mais aussi sa force dramatique et son hiératisme.

. . . cette version ne manque pas . . . de panache.

... Earth Dances ... en la intensa recreación de Boulez ...

Esta [interpretación] de Boulez es bien distinta ...

El Ensemble Modern ... es una referencia ineludible en el panorama de la música contemporánea más comprometida con la vanguardia. Integrado por auténticos virtuosos, actúa dirigido por el pope de este repertorio, Pierre Boulez, y por dos excelentes batutas llenas de talento, como son las del británico Martyn Brabbins y el francés Pierre-André Valade. Si a ello ańadimos una toma de sonido que hace total justicia a la riqueza orquestal de las obras, tendremos un gran disco, plenamente recomendable.