Harvey: Mythic Figures; The Riot; Nachtlied; Valley of Aosta

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LABELS: Sargasso
WORKS: Mythic Figures; The Riot; Nachtlied; Valley of Aosta
PERFORMER: Jane Manning (soprano), David Mason (piano); Het Trio, Ensemble Musique Nouvelle/Georges-Elie Octors
CATALOGUE NO: SCD 28044 (distr. MacTwo)
When nobody much wants to know the middle generation of British composers, the mystical modernist Jonathan Harvey makes an unlikely survivor. He touches a humanity that eludes many other atonal composers, while his electronic virtuosity has brought international respect. The newest item in this mini-retrospective is Mythic Figures, created in 2001 for a dance work using earlier music of his and drawing on it for material. Shades of the ‘works of peace’ in Strauss’s Heldenleben, but the outcome is a brilliant remix that succinctly conjures up the scenario’s dream landscape.


The oldest and longest piece is Nachtlied of 1984. The text puts Goethe’s equivocation between peace and death in ‘Wanderers Nachtlied’ alongside meditations on sleep and the divine by Rudolf Steiner. Harvey’s music moves slowly from the real-world sounds of Jane Manning with piano towards the radiance of a tape which includes transformations of her voice, and back to a wake-up piano cadenza.


Visionary moments also interrupt the unusually energetic instruments-only trio The Riot. Valley of Aosta, named for JMW Turner’s Snowstorm, Avalanche and Thunderstorm, is about shifting colours and blurred identities. Free-flowing fast figures over slow rhythms are like a metaphor for states of being. Listen on headphones to heighten the sense of communion. Robert Maycock