Album Remarks & Appraisals:
The music of English composer Gavin Bryars has long managed the distinction of being both "accessible and defiantly personal" (The New York Times). This is the first ECM album from Bryars in decades which includes the seven-part title work: a slowly evolving - yet immediately involving - setting of words by 17th-century English mystic Thomas Traherne performed by the spectacular choir and saxophone quartet, and Two Love Songs, luminous a cappella settings of Petrarch for The Crossing's women.
Liner Note Authors: Brian Morton; Anthony B. Creamer III; Gavin Bryars .
Recording information: Gould Hall at the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelph (06/2015); Saint Paul's Episcopal Church, Philadelphia (06/2015); Gould Hall at the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelph (07/2014); Saint Paul's Episcopal Church, Philadelphia (07/2014).
Gavin Bryars has written a good deal of music in minimalist styles, but he makes room for a good deal of expressivity. He has not written much choral music, but this ECM release may make his fans wish he had written more. He emerges here as a kind of British counterpart to Arvo Pärt, with similarly spiritual and mystical leanings. The title The Fifth Century refers to the texts used in the seven-section work, which come from a series of prose poems entitled Centuries of Meditations by the 17th century English mystical poet Thomas Traherne; the texts here are drawn from the fifth volume. Many of the texts suggest a contemplation of eternity, and they're quite compelling ("Like the sun we dart our rays before us, and occupy those spaces with light and contemplation which we move towards, but possess not with our bodies"). Around the peaceful a cappella settings of these words, a saxophone quartet winds counterpoint and preludes. The work was commissioned by the small choir heard here, called The Crossing, and it would be hard to imagine a more sympathetic performance. Those new to Bryars could start with the Italian-language Two Love Songs, for a three-part female choir (or solo singers), which presents the spare, yet deeply emotional quality of Bryars' music in compact form. As usual with ECM, the sound engineers are among the stars of the show; their work on The Fifth Century, at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, is especially enchanting. ~ James Manheim
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