PRISM Quartet & The Crossing perform choral works by Bryars

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COMPOSERS: Bryars
LABELS: ECM
ALBUM TITLE: Bryars
WORKS: The Fifth Century; Two Love Songs
PERFORMER: PRISM Quartet; The Crossing
CATALOGUE NO: 481 4495

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Gavin Bryars tends to divide audiences with his meditative, melodic works: where some find profound beauty, others are deterred by his music’s emotive simplicity.
The Fifth Century, the central work in this well-produced disc, is signature Bryars but no less affecting for its familiar soundworld.

Composed in 2014, The Fifth Century was commissioned by esteemed North American choir The Crossing who perform here alongside the PRISM saxophone quartet. The work sets texts by 17th-century poet and theologian Thomas Traherne, drawing on his Centuries of Meditations which declaim the ‘essence of God’ in colourful, mystic prose. The text is fascinating – each movement bears a wonderfully florid title such as ‘Eternity is a mysterious absence of times and ages’ – but it is equally possible to allow the words to wash over you entirely and instead be carried aloft on layer upon layer of Bryars’s slow-shifting harmonies. The saxophone quartet lends the timbre an otherwordly quality, winding delicately among the vocal lines, with echoes of The Hilliard Ensemble and Jan Garbarek’s popular plainchant and saxophone collaboration. The disc is rounded off with Two Love Songs (2010), two vibrant settings of Petrarch sonnets for a cappella female voices and performed by The Crossing with a pure, vital tone.

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Kate Wakeling