Ralph van Raat / Otto Tausk

Gavin Bryars: Piano Concerto (The Solway Canal)

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The music of British composer Gavin Bryars has been shaped by a variety of influences, from the avant-garde aesthetic of John Cage and Cornelius Cardew to minimalism, but its roots were in jazz performance, and it's easy to hear the sensibilities of jazz underlying the solo piano works, After Handel's Vesper and Ramble on Cortona. Both have an improvisatory quality and a harmonic language derived more obviously from jazz than from the Handel or the 13th century laudes that provide the source material. They have a mellow sweetness, and they unfold with amiable leisure. Bryars' Piano Concerto (The Solway Canal) is a darker work, an evocative soundscape that features the accompaniment not only of an orchestra but a choir. The piano part, frequently a simple melodic solo line floated over an arppegiated or chordal accompaniment, is far from the virtuosic showcase that typifies most concertos. The chorus, perhaps inevitably, draws the listener's attention most powerfully, and the piano part frequently takes on the character of an accompaniment. This flexibility of roles and the shifting musical focus should be problematic only for purists who demand that a concerto follow a preordained form, because the result, if not simple to categorize, is hauntingly lovely. Like the solo works, it develops at a reflective, unhurried pace. Its lack of dramatic contrasts in tempo is another element that sets it apart from conventional concertos, but it is highly effective in its moods of subdued melancholy. The album doesn't make the kinds of demands that show off Ralph van Raat's considerable virtuosity, but he brings just the right gentle poetry to Bryars' music. Otto Tausk leads Cappella Amsterdam and Netherlands Chamber Orchestra in a colorful and expressive performance of the concerto. Naxos' sound is atmospheric, clean, and well-balanced.

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