Riley

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COMPOSERS: Riley
LABELS: Nimbus
ALBUM TITLE: Riley
WORKS: Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector; One Earth, One People, One Love; Cry of a Lady; G Song; Lacrymosa – Remembering Kevin; Cadenza on the Night Plain
PERFORMER: Kronos Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 549523

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Of all David Harrington’s many achievements, persuading Terry Riley that he was a string quartet composer must rank near the top. Not only did it result in 27 ground-breaking quartets, but also in the Kronos Quartet’s new approach to string playing, which inspired so many other composers, and opened the form to non-Western traditions.

In honour of Riley’s 80th birthday, Nonesuch has issued a five-disc set of this ‘Kronos’ legacy, including re-releases of three albums, and this (partially) new disc, a seductive appetiser. There’s the sassy, scalic G Song, a hit of pure serotonin, and the heady collision of string delicacy against gutteral melismas and hard-edged vocalisation of Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares in Cry of a Lady (1990). These scores were created by an alchemical mix of Riley and the Kronos, best illustrated in newly-released Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector (1980): as it uncurls, keening and swooping into a dance of elastic, luminous interplay, the subtle flow of rhythmic impulse feels entirely spontaneous.

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The beguiling Cadenza on a Night Plain again lends each player the freedom and space to sing, and how. Lacrymosa – Remembering Kevin (1998), written in memory of violist Hank Dutt’s partner, builds from almost nothing to a dark, limping dirge, while newly released One Earth, One People, One Love, the final part of the epic Sun Rings (2002) reminds us just how powerful Riley’s response to 9/11 was. Featuring ravishing cello as chief mourner, it achieves a tragic Pärt-like monumentalism. Helen Wallace