Bryars: Incipit vita nova; Glorious Hill; Four Elements; Sub rosa

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WORKS: Incipit vita nova; Glorious Hill; Four Elements; Sub rosa
PERFORMER: David James (countertenor)Hilliard Ensemble, Gavin Bryars Ensemble
In the broad church of post-modernism Gavin Bryars has carved out a niche for himself that owes few stylistic debts to any of his contemporaries. With a fondness for slowly pulsing rhythms and adroit harmonic schemes, his music carries many of the trappings of Minimalism, yet with a consistent capacity to transcend that kind of narrow labelling. At their best, which just occasionally comes to the fore in this new collection, Bryars’s works can tease and enchant the ear with their piquant selection of texture and harmony; at their blandest, which is also represented here, they become intelligently crafted but ultimately anodyne exercises in manipulating undistinguished musical ideas.


The best on this disc arrives in the unlikely scoring of Sub rosa, Bryars’s tribute to fellow ECM composer Bill Frisell, and in Four Elements, written for the dance-maker Lucinda Childs, which works its way from some Brahmsian clarinet writing in the opening section to a coda some 30 minutes later that is full of sombre mystery, with a wordless countertenor providing a keening foreground. But along the way that score also has its longueurs, though not so consistently as the two vocal works for the Hilliard Ensemble, Incipit vita nova and Glorious Hill, which unroll like so many yards of exquisitely coloured musical wallpaper. All the performances though are finely rendered, even if the recording contains more than its fair quota of extra-musical pops, clicks and squeaks. Andrew Clements