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The Duets for Storab commemorate a Neolithic ruler of Raasay in the Hebrides, where Birtwistle lived for a while. As a Shetlander, I have always considered the Hebrides comparatively lush and luxurious. In Storab's day it seems not to have been so, and Birtwistle's 'urlar', or original datum for the two flutes, develops at once into a 'Stark pastoral' that lives up to its title and suggests a minimum of safe grazing for the sheep. My favourite among the six duets is 'From the church of lies', a subject that could cheerfully inspire a whole library of CDs rather than a piece lasting just over a minute [listen -- track 8, 0:02-1:20]. The Five Distances of 1992 balance Refrains and Choruses that again pits the horn against the rest of the team, beginning indeed with a horn ostinato. It is remarkable how consistent has been Birtwistle's idiom over this 35-year period [listen -- track 19, 0:03-1:03].

Much of this music, one suspects, had its origin as a scrap or chip that did not find a place in a major work. The liner notes include an interview between Birtwistle and Colin Anderson in which the composer describes such music as 'relaxation. I pick up from one composition things that are not fully realised and put them in another piece, but you would never be able to find them'. Such 'relaxation' can make a stimulating introduction to Sir Harrison's tonal explorations.

Copyright © 20 February 2002 Robert Anderson, London, UK






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