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Weir: The Vanishing Bridegroom

COMPOSERS: Weir
LABELS: NMC
ALBUM TITLE: Weir: The Vanishing Bridegroom
WORKS: The Vanishing Bridegroom
PERFORMER: Ailish Tynan, Anna Stéphany, Andrew Tortise, Owen Gilhooly, Jonathan Lemalu; BBC Singers & Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins

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Premiered in 1990, Judith Weir’s remarkable second opera has waited for nearly a quarter of a century to be recorded. Fortunately this 2008 concert performance does more than justice to a work which, if anything, manages to surpass the deft brilliance of Weir’s earlier A Night at the Chinese Opera. A serious tour de force in technical and dramatic terms, The Vanishing Bridegroom brims with moments where the level of atmospheric storytelling is mesmerising.

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Each of the three acts, ‘The Inheritance’, ‘The Disappearance’ and ‘The Stranger’, is based on a Scottish folk tale. A bridegroom, a husband, and a dubious suitor (the Devil) in turn vanish – in deference to the bride’s former lover, spirited away by fairies, or outwitted by a girl and a passing preacher. The whole sequence adds up to an ongoing portrait of a single family, depicted in Weir’s trademark sharp-focus tonal style, with one vivid scene after another deftly paced and intercut. Most of the main cast of five singers is required to take on a different role in each act; they switch between these excellently, with Martyn Brabbins securing a precise and incisive response from his BBC choral and orchestra forces. The one reservation, only minor, concerns some underpowered casting among the several smaller roles. This doesn’t detract from a memorable listening experience, enhanced by recorded sound whose perspective is natural and clear, with just the right touch of resonance. Malcolm Hayes