WORKS: From Silence; Nataraja; Ritual Melodies
PERFORMER: Karol Bennett (sop); instrumentalists
CATALOGUE NO: BCD 9031 DDD
There’s a strange dichotomy, a paradox almost, at the heart of Jonathan Harvey’s music. On the one hand he has been more involved with exploring the possibilities of electroacoustics and computer techniques than any other British composer of his generation. That is the Harvey represented on the Bridge compilation: From Silence was the result of a residency at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1988, and involves electronic keyboard, computer and pre-recorded tape; Ritual Melodies is a tape piece realised at IRCAM in 1990. Both are supremely accomplished works, elegantly crafted and full of beautifully imagined sound complexes.
Yet the other Harvey is the composer of religious works, often for unaccompanied chorus, exemplified by the Joyful Company’s survey. It shouldn’t seem paradoxical, but in an age when radicalism has been equated with rationalism it does, though the broad range of Harvey’s sympathies (the most substantial piece on the ASV disc, Forms of Emptiness, combines texts by e e cummings with Sanskrit and English extracts from the Buddhist Heart Sutra) takes these pieces far beyond any narrow prescription of a specific religious tradition. Apart from some of the compositional techniques, it is hard to find many points of contact between the portraits of Harvey offered on these two discs; he remains one of Britain’s most intriguing composers and, I suspect, probably one of the most important ones. Andrew Clements