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Endlessly fascinating

The Guardian, Andrew Clements

Though there are two substantial scores in this collection – the 1957 Refrains and Choruses for wind quintet, Birtwistle’s first published work, and the Five Distances for Five Instruments from 1993 – both are already available on disc, as is the curious Oockooing Bird, a piano piece of uncanny modal wanderings dating from his early teens. The other chamber music, occasional pieces and birthday tributes here fill some of the usually overlooked gaps in the composer’s discography. The 1983 Duets for Storab are a set of six short pieces for two flutes, presenting many of Birtwistle’s familiar technical devices in skeletal form, while Verses for clarinet and piano (1965) uses the verse-and-refrain structures that were the building blocks of all his early works. An Interrupted Endless Melody for oboe and piano (1991), meanwhile, plays with changing perspectives between foreground melody and background harmony. Most of this is not great Birtwistle, but it is endlessly fascinating.

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