Bryars: Cello Concerto (Farewell to Philosophy); One Last Bar, Then Joe Can Sing

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COMPOSERS: Bryars
LABELS: Point
WORKS: Cello Concerto (Farewell to Philosophy); One Last Bar, Then Joe Can Sing
PERFORMER: Julian Lloyd Webber (cello), Charlie Haden (double bass); Nexus, ECO/James Judd
CATALOGUE NO: 454 126-2
Farewell to Philosophy – the title of Bryars’s new Cello Concerto – refers, in part, to the composer’s early study of philosophy. More striking is its reflection of his recent abandonment of so much of the paraphernalia – revealing enthusiasms both musical and extra-musical – that helped to give his compositions such a palpable integrity.

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The concerto’s rather clunking references to Haydn symphonies – the progressive reduction of forces, for instance, modelled on the Farewell Symphony – might seem to continue the line of thinking that produced the compelling Sinking of the Titanic from extensive research into the famous disaster. The musical results now, however, are wooden and two-dimensional. The cello’s almost continuous melodic line drives the work appropriately, but it sounds closer to the sort of thing the soloist’s brother Andrew would write than to the sharp, ambivalent lyricism of Bryars’s youth.

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A little of his former textural inventiveness surfaces in One Last Bar, Then Joe Can Sing, inspired by the percussion group Nexus. In By the Vaar, it is hard to decide which is worse: the banalities of the fully-composed opening or the vacuous posturings of the partly-improvised close. Like the whole disc, it is generous with the minutes, but mean with ideas and their development. Keith Potter