Bryars: Piano Concerto (The Solway Canal); After Handel’s Vesper; Ramble on Cortona

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COMPOSERS: Bryars
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Piano Concerto (The Solway Canal); After Handel’s Vesper; Ramble on Cortona
PERFORMER: Ralph van Raat (piano); Cappella Amsterdam; Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic/Otto Tausk
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572570

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Bryars studied philosophy and is an adherent of ’Pataphysics, the ‘science of imaginary solutions’. A pioneer of free improvisation, he co-founded the legendary Joseph Holbrooke trio with Derek Bailey and Tony Oxley. A thread of stern, ascetic modernism runs through his work, yet his most famous pieces, The Sinking of the Titanic and Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, are among the most intensely affecting music ever written.

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The orchestral writing in the concerto (premiered in Utrecht on 19 February 2010 and recorded live in Amsterdam for this CD the next day) shares something of the melancholy beauty of those compositions. The rippling piano part runs through the entire 28 minutes with hardly a pause, while the orchestra subtly shadows the soloist. The choir, singing words by Edwin Morgan, similarly ebbs and flows in and out of consciousness.
Vesper (originally conceived for harpsichord) and Ramble remind us of the correspondences between Minimalism and aspects of early music. Although marked by restless motion, they achieve an overall sense of calm. Barry Witherden