Laude were 14th century works for unaccompanied
soprano, setting texts which were of a sacred nature but which
were associated with no particular liturgy and could be quite
popular in feel. One source describes them as sermons in verse
and music. They were sung by popular confraternities who were
not associated with a specific church.
Bryars has taken Laude from a 14th century
manuscript collection from Cortona and used them as the basis
for a series of fascinating works. When composing the new
works he respects the original laude on which they
were based, trying to keep to the same number of notes per
syllable as the medieval originals, often making the contours
of his music follow the medieval and sometimes quoting individual
described, the results might be expected to be contrived or
dryly academic. In fact, on this disc sung by Swedish soprano
Anna Maria Friman, the results are astonishing and ravishing.
helps of course that Friman, an early music specialist who
also sings with the Trio Medieval, has a beautiful voice and
knows what to do with it. In this music she brings rich tone
to the music, sings with great suppleness and flexibility
whilst preserving a lovely sense of line; she makes it all
sound completely free and spontaneous, whilst you know that
both music and vocalism are really highly controlled.
his liner notes, Bryars says that he ‘relished the challenge
of writing something so exposed, so naked and unadorned, where
I cannot hide behind, say, an orchestrated accompaniment or
rich harmonies’. Of the fifteen Laude on this disc,
four are for solo soprano; for the remainder Bryars variously
adds John Potter’s evocative tenor, Morgan Goff’s viola, Nick
Cooper’s cello and Bryars’ own double-bass.
is often called upon to provide a drone accompaniment to Friman’s
free flowing, melismatic soprano, but sometimes this develops
into an organum like accompaniment. On one memorable
Lauda, “Lauda vollio per amore”, Friman provides
a drone to Potter’s melody.
results are not pastiche, you would never mistake these pieces
for early music, but they represent a fascinating melding
of early music with modern sensibility. They are minimal,
in the sense that Bryars uses his forces with a wonderful
economy; small gestures conjure whole worlds. The results
are contemplative but never boring, musically interesting
but never busy.
is something of the sense of the piano etude about
these pieces. Bryars states that he writes them quickly, in
a matter of hours. Each Lauda seems to embody a particular
concern or idea; for instance the double bass in O divina
virgo, flore hints at the possibilities of jazz. In a
number of Laude Bryars relishes the sheer distance
between soprano and double-bass. In Omne homo the use
of a refrain and a plucked bass conjures up images of variations
on a ground bass. The sense of medieval organum is
something that wanders into a number of these pieces, but
Bryars does not restrict himself and a sense of more classical/romantic
harmony can be felt as well. In the final track, Amore
dolçe sença pare, Bryars manages to combine a very real
medieval feel with some surprisingly tough harmonies. In other
pieces, such as the solo soprano Regina sovrana the
medieval melodic outlines are distorted using wide leaps in
the vocal line, to very great effect.
have nothing but praise and envy for these performers; they
capture the essence of Bryars’ fascinating pieces and show
precious few technical faults. Bryars has so far written some
forty-one Laude (there are fifteen on this disc) and
with an interpreter as ravishing as Anna Maria Friman you
cannot help but understand his inspiration and hope that he
will go on writing more.
found these pieces endlessly fascinating and hauntingly beautiful,
but I am very aware that Bryars’s concerns to cross the boundaries
between early music and contemporary chime in with my own
concerns as a composer. These pieces might not be to everyone’s
taste. But I hope that the release of this disc, on Bryars’
own label will encourage as many people as possible to try
out what is beautifully approachable music which never talks
down. This will be one of my discs of the year.