At Salzburg last summer Gawain finally won a life outside the UK, and next week a “concert staging” opens the Barbican’s Birtwistle’s 80th birthday festival. It will be the opera’s first London performance since 1994, when this BBC recording of the Covent Garden staging was made (later released by Collins Classics and long since unavailable).

Birtwistle’s difficult vocal lines and ritualistic patterns need a high level of commitment from the listener: this is an opera best experienced with eyes as well as ears. But for those prepared to submit to its baleful orchestral sound and riddle-strewn tale, Howarth and his fine cast (John Tomlinson, François Le Roux, Marie Angel) provide a definitive experience.

Harrison Birtwistle


Elgar Howarth/Royal Opera

(NMC, 2 CDs)

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