Bryars: Cello Concerto; Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet; The Green Ray; Adnan Songbook; One Last Bar, Then Joe Can Sing; The North Shore

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COMPOSERS: Bryars
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Cello Concerto; Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet; The Green Ray; Adnan Songbook; One Last Bar, Then Joe Can Sing; The North Shore
PERFORMER: Valdine Anderson (soprano), John Harle (saxophone), Bill Hawkes (viola), Julian Lloyd Webber (cello), Gavin Bryars (double bass), Dave Smith (piano), etc; Gavin Bryars Ensemble, ECO/James Judd, Nexus, Bournemouth Sinfonietta
CATALOGUE NO: 473 296-2 Reissue (1990-98)
Many men might expect to receive a nice tie, or maybe some whisky tumblers, upon reaching the grand age of 60. Few are as fortunate as Gavin Bryars in having a major label release a marvellous two-disc portrait of their music. Bryars has an extraordinary ability to sustain and develop a mood allied to an individuality that resists convenient labels. The majority of the pieces presented here date from the Nineties, and even those works from earlier in Bryars’s career, such as Titanic Lament (1969), are in their recently revised versions. Performances are excellent throughout, with Julian Lloyd Webber’s lyrical journey through the broad arching melodies of the melancholic Cello Concerto (1995) leading the way. The understated highlight of the set, One Last Bar, Then Joe Can Sing, finds percussion ensemble Nexus on typically beguiling form, and John Harle is quietly radiant in The Green Ray.

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No musical portrait of Bryars would be complete without some reference to his best-known work, Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, in which the quavering voice of a London tramp, professing a naive religious faith through song, is repeated over and over again in a tape loop, while a small orchestra and choir accompany him. On paper it looks desperately twee; in reality it is a profoundly moving experience. It is represented here by the short ‘single’ version, but the extended 70-minute revision of this 1975 masterpiece (also Philips) cannot be recommended too highly. This compilation will certainly leave you wanting to hear much more of Bryars’s haunting music. Christopher Dingle