American indie rock band guitarist Bryce Dessner’s debut classical recording comes with excellent credentials. Dessner is a Yale graduate who studied classical guitar, flute and composition and who has worked with some of the best in the business including Reich, Glass and David Lang. While his style leans towards a minimalist aesthetic he’s open to and range of influences, from early music through to rock and pop.
Aheym – “homeward” in Yiddish – immediately grabs the ear with its sharp, unanimous rhythms before opening out into hypnotic ostinati and a multitude of dazzling timbres and colours. Little Blue Something is more restrained, intimate, even melancholy.
Tenebre takes its inspiration from the Holy Week office of tenebrae, for which Renaissance composers in particular wrote such dazzling music. Dessner achieves extraordinary sonic effects here, with ghostly passages recalling the sound of a glass harmonica. This is aural chiaroscuro at its most compelling, made even more so by a multi-tracked Kronos Quartet (times three) and vocalist Sufjan Stevens (times eight). Dessner himself appears as guitarist on Tour Eiffel, which was commissioned by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus.
This is exciting, visceral and at times deeply moving music, with a thorough awareness of the interplay between tradition and innovation. The performances cannot be faulted.