Music: Classical: Music on CD
Friday 30 January 1998
Soloists, BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Orchestra / Andrew Davis
If you believe the anti-Birtwistle lobby, a recording of The Mask of Orpheus should show it up for the musically empty thing it is. Strip away the dense, often perplexingly multi-layerd stage activity and the mystique is gone, the score is revealed as meaningless sound and fury. I confess: even as one of those who was blown away by ENO's 1986 stage premiere, I had my doubts. Could the music hold the attention without the action?
The answer is yes. In fact, I was surprised at how quickly each of the three substantial acts seemed to run its course. Even the purely electronic dances (accompanying the miniature "Passing Cloud" and "Allegorical Flower" ballet sequences) didn't stretch patience too far.
Act 2 - Orpheus' ultimately futile descent into Nightmare/ Hades to rescue Euridice - is more or less musically self-sufficient, an immense elemental crescendo followed by desolation and catastrophe (Orpheus' suicide). But Acts 1 and 3 are full of remarkable things: the tortured birth of music, speech and poetry at the beginning; the sacrifice of Orpheus (another version of the myth!) before the end; and the strange, primal dreamscape of the final pages - electronic sounds that vaguely recall but entirely transcend moody New Ageism.
In such a huge cast of singers and players, it's hard to pick out individuals for praise. But Jon Garrison as Orpheus The Man (as opposed to Orpheus The Myth) sings, yells, gabbles and stammers magnificently. Marie Angel's appropriately titled "First Hysterical Aria" as the Oracle of the Dead pierces and fixes itself in the memory.
Contributions from the BBC Singers and the winds, brass and percussion of the BBC Symphony Orchestra are predictably strong and conductor Andrew Davis (with assistant Martyn Brabbins) holds it together as if he knows it intimately. Recording and presentation are excellent too, though be prepared to do some serious homework on the text before sitting down to follow it with the music.
Life & Style blogs
Dating site hack reveals sexual secrets of 4 million users
Crystal meth addict 'gouged out his eyes and ate them' while high on drug, Australian MP claims
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?
New Zealand 'the best country to work as a prostitute', says sex worker advocacy group
What do the emoji on Snapchat mean?
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
Report finds that Britain's wages are the most unequal in Europe
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland
- 1 Crystal meth addict 'gouged out his eyes and ate them' while high on drug, Australian MP claims
- 2 As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
- 3 The ten most unequal developed countries in the world
- 4 Saudi Arabia 'seeking to head United Nations Human Rights Council'
- 5 Toddler throws a tantrum at the White House – in front of Barack Obama
£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...
£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...