Gavin BRYARS (b.1943)
After Handelís Vesper (1995) [11:47]
Ramble on Cortona (2010) [12:34]
Piano Concerto (The Solway Canal) (2010) [28:21]Ļ
Ralph van Raat (piano)
Capella Amsterdam
Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic/Otto Tausk Ļ
rec. August 2010, Sweelinckzaal, Amsterdam and February 2010, Muziekgebouw aanít IJ, Amsterdam (Concerto)
NAXOS 8.572570 [52:42]

Gavin Bryarsí music tends not to deal in opacity. It can loop, gaining reserves of emotional response through repetition Ė the most obvious example is Jesusí Blood Never Failed Me Yet Ė and it can allude, but it doesnít 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 Handelís 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 arenít wholly met. This is the composerís 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, itís 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 itís 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 Ė weíre not told which. This isnít, and one would not expect it to be given itís Bryars, in any sense a traditional cut-and-thrust Piano Concerto. Here the solo voice is interwoven into the musicís textures. One might think that the Busoni Piano Concerto Ė which has a chorus too Ė is a spur, but if so itís 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

Wistful, often romantic and without flourish, and deeply intimate in reach.

see also review by John France