The English composer’s unique and extraordinary music offers power and poetry.

In residence for the Adelaide Festival, Gavin Bryars brought poetry in motion to Elder Hall for the first of two concerts with his select collaborators who displayed their prowess across musical settings steeped in ancient prose. This world-class fare provided audiences with the rare chance to spend a relaxed and informal evening with Bryars, and his extraordinary compositions.

This was chamber music; Bryars-style. A collection of Laude and Madrigals adorned the program and resonated through the space with reverent beauty. 13th century Italian texts, a smattering of transfixing love songs á la Blake Morrison, a dash of Pete Townshend, and a Gertrude Stein influenced commission, filled the eclectic evening; Bryars’ atypical instrumentation wonderfully laden with colour and texture.

Soprano Peyee Chen delivered phenomenal clarity from her first note, and when she soared with a grace that seemed to be ethereal, the result was spine tingling. She was matched by the mellifluous warm timbre of tenor John Potter; their vocal lines superbly complimented the captivating text, delivered with passion, precision, and a sense of ease.

Early doors, the Lauda 13 “Stomme Allegro” was filled with such exquisite beauty, there felt a real chance that “bright and shining angels will come from heaven” right there on stage. In the penultimate piece, The Irish Madrigals (2004) from Third Book of Madrigals, Bryars married the alluring sonnets by Petrarch (translated by John Millington Synge) to his dramatic score, underpinned with a sense of developing lament. The nine-part piece, with an additional guest viola (Imants Larsens) was powerful, and with driving motifs of heaven and death, channelled the divine.

Bryars’ Ensemble of James Woodrow (guitars), Morgan Goff (viola), Nick Cooper (cello) and Bryars on double bass, exhibited control, phrasing, and musicianship common only to collaborations borne of respect and conducted over time. The ensemble made the concert look not only easy, but also enjoyable. They clearly trusted the helm, and justifiably so. Despite the abstract darkness of pervading bass-lines, Bryars always managed to bring us to a plateau of great comfort; like we were ships tossing in a storm, and he held the keys to a safe harbour.

Gavin Bryars Ensemble concert proved a wonderful chocolaty evening experience; dark, rich, comforting and deliciously moreish.

Gavin Byars in Residence concerts include Gavin Bryars Ensemble with guests on March 4 and Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra on March 5 which will be broadcast live nationally on ABC Classic FM.