We wish you a merry Birtwistle

This was a scene a few minutes before the start of the Britten Sinfonia's lunchtime concert in Norwich today. A sequence of five gigs has taken the band from Krakow in Poland to Cambridge, Birmingham, London and then finally Norwich in less than a week. Today's Norwich Assembly Halls venue is right in the city centre next to the region's largest mall which was thronged with Christmas shoppers despite the driving snow.

It is worth reflecting on the music that tempted a good sized audience away from the stores and into the concert hall today. There were no excerpts from the Nutcracker, no Lieutenant Kijé or Peter and the Wolf, and not even Corelli's Christmas Concerto.

The programme, which was as bracing as the weather outside, comprised three Harrison Birtwistle works, six Birtwistle arrangements, and a new commission from young English composer to watch Christian Mason. Another composer, John Woolrich, devised the inspired programme which had yet another composer, Hugh Watkins, playing piano with seven other members of the Britten Sinfonia. BBC Proms audiences please note; the following sequence was performed, at the request of the musicians, with no applause between the works but with an awful lot after Birtwistle's concluding arrangement of Ockeghem.

Machaut (arr. Birtwistle) Hoquetus David
Harrison Birtwistle Double Hocket
JS Bach (arr. Birtwistle) Three Fugues from the Art of Fugue - Contrapunctus VII
Harrison Birtwistle Lied
JS Bach (arr. Birtwistle) Three Fugues from the Art of Fugue - Contrapunctus XII
Harrison Birtwistle Verses
JS Bach (arr. Birtwistle) Three Fugues from the Art of Fugue - Contrapunctus XVII
Christian Mason Noctilucence (World première tour)
Ockeghem (arr. Birtwistle) Ut heremita solus

Once again the Britten Sinfonia has shown that quality not compromise is what is needed when the going gets tough, and personally I have been overwhelmed by the sheer quality of the live music making I have heard in the past few weeks. Paying my own way and working within a tight budget I have been privileged to hear Jordi Savall in Paris, the Trio Chausson playing Haydn, Beethoven, Didier Gecquon and Mendelssohn in Avignon, a Gregorian Mass in a Benedictine Abbey and the Britten Sinfonia playing Bach, Birtwistle and Christian Mason in Norwich. And it hasn't finished. As soon as I hit the publish button I'm off to hear another live gig in Norwich this evening, this time it's the inimitable Belinda Sykes and her band Joglaresa.

Tickets for all concerts mentioned in this article were paid for by me. Header photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Pliable said…
I asked the Britten Sinfonia the obvious question after today's superb concert - any plans to record the Birtwistle compositions and arrangements on the Sinfonia's own record label?

The answer was, as yet none. But BBC Radio 3 did record the Cambridge concert for later broadcast.

Somebody should license that recording for commercial release.
Garth Trinkl said…
Merci pour tout nouveau.

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