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Bryce Dessner: Tenebre, etc

Moses Sumney (vocals); Ensemble Resonanz (Resonanz Raum)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Bryce Dessner
Tenebre*; Aheym; Skrik Trio; Lachrimae
*Moses Sumney (vocals); Ensemble Resonanz
Resonanz Raum Records RRR 002   58:03 mins


Bryce Dessner has won critical acclaim in both the worlds of contemporary and popular music. Long established as the guitarist and songwriter of the American rock band The National, Dessner has recently returned to the realm of classical music (he is a classically-trained guitarist), winning recognition with his vigorous and exciting post-minimalism works for both screen and concert hall.

Dessner’s muscular works are well paired with Germany’s Ensemble Resonanz who play with a fierce but precise energy. Highlights include the title work, Tenebre (2011), originally composed for the Kronos Quartet but heard here in an arrangement for full string orchestra. The work reverses the structure of the Tenebre Holy Week Mass, travelling not from light to dark but from gloom to radiance: hesitant shivers of sound gradually grow in force and complexity, before the work softens in its final section, introducing some glorious vocals from Moses Sumney.

Also premiered by the Kronos Quartet, Aheym (2009) was written as a ‘musical evocation of the idea of flight and passage’ in honour of the composer’s grandmother, a Jewish immigrant, and bristles with restless energy. Lachrimae (2012) offers a wonderfully warped reimagining of Dowland’s work of the same name, and includes some particularly imaginative and arresting uses of harmonics across the string ensemble. The recording throughout has a closeness and crispness which well matches both Dessner’s tightly-wrought works and Ensemble Resonanz’s taut performances.


Kate Wakeling