- After Handel's Vesper, for harpsichord - Gavin Bryars - Ralph van Raat
Gavin Bryars: Piano Concerto (The Solway Canal)by Ralph van Raat
The music of British composer Gavin Bryars has been shaped by a variety of influences, from the avant-garde aesthetic of John Cage and Cornelius Cardew to minimalism, but its roots were in jazz performance, and it's easy to hear the sensibilities of jazz underlying the solo piano works, "After Handel's Vesper" and "Ramble on Cortona." Both have an improvisatory quality and a harmonic language derived more obviously from jazz than from the Handel or the 13th century laudes that provide the source material. They have a mellow sweetness, and they unfold with amiable leisure. Bryars' "Piano Concerto (The Solway Canal)" is a darker work, an evocative soundscape that features the accompaniment not only of an orchestra but a choir. The piano part, frequently a simple melodic solo line floated over an arppegiated or chordal accompaniment, is far from the virtuosic showcase that typifies most concertos. The chorus, perhaps inevitably, draws the listener's attention most powerfully, and the piano part frequently takes on the character of an accompaniment. This flexibility of roles and the shifting musical focus should be problematic only for purists who demand that a concerto follow a preordained form, because the result, if not simple to categorize, is hauntingly lovely. Like the solo works, it develops at a reflective, unhurried pace. Its lack of dramatic contrasts in tempo is another element that sets it apart from conventional concertos, but it is highly effective in its moods of subdued melancholy. The album doesn't make the kinds of demands that show off Ralph van Raat's considerable virtuosity, but he brings just the right gentle poetry to Bryars' music. Otto Tausk leads Cappella Amsterdam and Netherlands Chamber Orchestra in a colorful and expressive performance of the concerto. Naxos' sound is atmospheric, clean, and well-balanced.
- Release Date:
Performance CreditsRalph van Raat Primary Artist
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This album is hauntingly beautiful. I really enjoyed the creativity and elegance in the performance. However, this is definitely not something for the novice classical music listener (present company included). I was a bit turned off by the ominous vocals present in the last movement. However, I believe that to be the point of the work, and it is brilliantly executed. Not really my cup of tea, but excellent for those avid classical music fans looking for something new to partake in.
I've always liked Gavin Bryars' music, although I admit I was always more familiar with his earlier works, such as "Jesus' Blood Ain't Failed Me Yet," and "The Sinking of the Titanic." The latter was almost a study in sound landscapes and non-tonal sonorities, crafted to deliver a visceral emotional wallop. Bryars has continued growing as a composer, delving even further into the nature of sound, while refining his musical language. All of that's beautifully illustrated in this new recording from Naxos. Pianist Ralph van Raat presents three of Bryars' recent compositions for the instrument, two of which are dedicated to van Raat. All three works share certain similarities. There are these long flowing arpeggios played with the damper pedal down. This causes these layered chords to overlap each other, creating an additional voice as sonorities fade in and out. At first listen, I was reminded briefly of Philip Glass' music -- but only briefly. While flowing diatonic chords are prominent, that's where the similarity ends. Bryar isn't concerned with gradual changes over time. He's more interested in what's happening at the moment. His chords change quickly, although each chord often has several notes in common with the one before it. The result is music that organically flows from point to point, much like a vine. While the two solo piano works on the album, "After Handel's Vesper" and "Ramble on Cortona" are compelling listening, the piano concerto is a real masterwork. Subtitled "The Solway Canal" it takes the Edwin Morgan poem as its starting point and basis for organization. Like Smetana's "Ma Vlast," the piano concerto takes the listener down the canal, presenting scenes along the banks that drift past. The solo piano part isn't especially virtuostic, but it is the glue that holds the work together. The piano plays almost constantly, with the orchestra and chorus organized around its shimmering chordal cascades. I would be hard-pressed to precisely describe the structure of the work, but I don't think it matters. "The Solway Canal" pulled me along from the first note to the final chord, and everything just seemed to fall into place. If you think modern music has to sound like a toolbox descending a staircase, give Bryar a listen. You won't hear pretty little melodies, but you will hear compelling, accessible music that draws you in emotionally. And really, isn't that the point? Highly recommended.