Notes and Editorial Reviews
Wistful, often romantic and without flourish, and deeply intimate in reach.
Gavin Bryars’ music tends not to deal in opacity. It can loop, gaining reserves of emotional response through repetition – the most obvious example is
Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet – and it can allude, but it doesn’t obfuscate.
But Bryars has cast his net widely over the years and we should welcome evidence of his versatility. This latest disc includes two works for solo piano and his Piano Concerto, titled
The Solway Canal.
After Handel’s Vesper was written in 1995, originally for the harpsichord, but is heard here in a sanctioned version for piano. The calm start leads to more dynamic writing which casts off the air of relatively static post-minimalist writing. It embodies, to a degree, the kind of freedoms to be found in a fantasia, a feeling that is, for me, intensified at 8:40 when a sudden trill and simple figure announces the emergence of more explicitly baroque-leaning affiliations.
The title of his next solo piano piece,
Ramble on Cortona, sets up Graingeresque expectations, but these aren’t wholly met. This is the composer’s only work originally conceived for solo piano, and bases its themes on
Laude, a recent vocal work of his. These in turn derive from thirteenth century Italian music in manuscripts found in
Cortona. Slow and meditative, it’s flecked with ghostly ascending treble steps. But one senses too the impress of Spanish textures as the music slowly speeds up in its journey. It casts something of a spell, as it’s quietly expressive.
The Concerto (
The Solway Canal) was also written in 2010. It sets poems by the Scot Edwin Morgan whose death last year was either the catalyst for the setting, or a coincidence – we’re not told which. This isn’t, and one would not expect it to be given it’s Bryars, in any sense a traditional cut-and-thrust Piano Concerto. Here the solo voice is interwoven into the music’s textures. One might think that the Busoni Piano Concerto – which has a chorus too – is a spur, but if so it’s only in the vaguest of terms and I would prefer to think of that work only as a precedent. The work is wistful, often romantic and without flourish, and again deeply intimate in reach.
The Ramble and Concerto are both dedicated to the highly able soloist in this recording, Ralph van Raat, who shows every sign of becoming a Bryars muse of the first order.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International