OP0613. THE MASK OF ORPHEUS (Birtwistle), Live Performance, 1996, Royal Festival Hall, London, w.Andrew Davis & Martyn Brabbins; Jon Garrison, Peter Bronder, Alan Opie, Anne-Marie Owens, etc. (UK) 3-NMC D050, Slipcase Edition w. 2 elaborate 79 & 69pp. 2-Libretto-Brochures). Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! Appears as New, albeit slipcase is ltly rubbed. - 5023363005029
“When English National Opera presented the premiere of THE MASK OF ORPHEUS at the Coliseum in 1986, I doubt many of us in the audience thought we would have to wait 33 years to see it on stage again. In the meantime both in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, other productions of what was acknowledged as the defining work of Harrison Birtwistle’s early career and a landmark in 20th-century British opera, had regularly been promised, only for plans to be abandoned sooner or later, because of the sheer financial and technical challenges of realising them.
But now this monumental work is back at the Coliseum, the centrepiece of ENO’s Orpheus season. For that, at least, much thanks. Those who were not around to experience the work in 1986, or the concert staging performance at the Royal Festival Hall 10 years later, will need to catch this version, if only to experience the magnificence of much of the music, which is an immense achievement for conductor Martyn Brabbins and everyone else involved.
The immense, writhing power of Birtwistle’s orchestral writing, and the sheer originality and beauty of the electronic interludes that he and composer Barry Anderson realised at IRCAM in Paris, emerge with startling, abrasive clarity.”
- Andrew Clements, THE GUARDIAN, 20 Oct., 2019
“Answer, answer, answer. This refrain, both plea and command, concludes Harrison Birtwistle’s opera THE MASK OF ORPHEUS, a nearly four-hour epic of rampant and elusive complexity. Answers are hard to come by. It tells the story, in multiple versions simultaneously, of the musician god who tries to retrieve his dead wife, Eurydice, from Hades. Its only full staging was at the London Coliseum in 1986….a musical event with guts: composers were out in force on first night, a reminder that THE MASK OF ORPHEUS, landing on 20th-century music like a meteor, had no precedent or successor.
Riddles are key to every Birtwistle opera, from PUNCH AND JUDY (1968) to GAWAIN (1991) and THE MINOTAUR (2008). In THE MASK OF ORPHEUS, which has an impossibly dense libretto by Peter Zinovieff, music, song, dance and mime are yoked into a massive, unwieldy entity. It needs a large, unconventional orchestra, dark with bassoons, trombones, tubas; luminous with electric guitar, mandolin, soprano saxophones. Two conductors have to marshal these forces. Brabbins was second in command on the 1997 NMC recording…..Pioneering electronics (by the late Barry Anderson), based on the sounds of a harp, add sumptuous beauty.”
Fiona Maddocks, THE GUARDIAN, 26 Oct., 2019
“Harrison Birtwistle was attracted to music very early on. From the age of eleven, he wrote his first compositions. At the Royal Manchester College of Music, however, he first studied the clarinet and formed a small ensemble with some of his comrades who, too, will make a name for themselves in contemporary creation: Peter Maxwell Davies, Alexander Goehr, etc. In 1957, he published his first work, REFRAINS AND CHORUSES, which already reflected his perfect mastery of all the European musical heritage of the early twentieth century (Stravinsky, Webern, Messiaen and Varèse), while asserting a great personality. He would then make a name for himself with his first works composed for the London Sinfonietta. Today admired by a large number of his colleagues including his elder Pierre Boulez, Birtwistle is recorded by the biggest record companies (Deutsche Grammophon, Decca, etc.) and of course NMC which offers us a very nice range - representative - music by this British composer.”