Gavin Bryars Ensemble / Gavin Bryars

Gavin Bryars: Live at Punkt

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This recording of music by Gavin Bryars, featuring his Ensemble, was made live at the 2008 Punkt Festival in Kristiansand, Norway, and is testimony to his commitment to the particular vitality of live performance. The pieces, written between 2002 and 2008, are laudas, a form of non-liturgical religious song in Latin that flowered between the 13th and 16th centuries. Laudas were simple, popular songs, accessible to performers and audiences without musical training, and Bryars essentially sticks to that definition, although the listener is grateful that the singers recorded here have beautiful, obviously trained voices, because Bryars' laudas are not always so simple that just anyone could pick them up. The melodies are mostly modal and often follow the contours of medieval song; in fact, it's possible to imagine that, except for the accompaniment of the Gavin Bryars Ensemble (viola, cello, double bass, electric guitar, and on a few tracks, trumpet), these could be songs written half a millennium ago. Fans of the composer will recognize his stylistic imprint in these pieces, in their generous lyricism and piquant harmonies. Soprano Anna Maria Friman and tenor John Potter sing with exceptional purity and intensity, sometimes as soloists and sometime in duet, and several tracks feature instrumental versions of the songs. Almost every track uses a different combination of voices and instruments, so the album has an engaging diversity of timbres that offsets the melodic similarity of some of the songs. The Bryars Ensemble plays his understated accompaniments with delicacy, subtly complementing the voices and never overwhelming them. The sound is very close, but clean and ambient. This appealing CD should be of interest to fans of the composer and of contemporary vocal music, and perhaps to early music fans as well.

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