Herculean, three-act concert marathon a visual and aural feast.

Elder Hall, Adelaide
March 4, 2015

The second Gavin Bryars Ensemble concert (now with added guests) revealed the composer/performer, in residence for the Adelaide Festival, to be a masterful musical raconteur. Bryars diverse program selection and herculean, three-act concert marathon, was a visual and aural feast.

A Capella sextet The Song Company shone in Act 1 under the precise hand of director Roland Peelman. The performance of Bryars’ compositions Laude and Madrigals from the Second and Sixth Book of Madrigals (2002, 2015), with instrumentation of four to six voices, resonated with such purity, the sound belied the numbers on stage. The pieces, punctuated by haunting silences, profound accents, rich harmonies, and precise dynamics were deeply moving. Five madrigals from the Sixth Book, text by Petrarch were premiered; Bryars score completed only ten days prior. As Peelman humoured that the ink was not yet dry, Bryars took to the audience for a perspective from the pews.

The pace-changing Act 2, came as something of a revelation. Nothing Like The Sun (2007) featured eight Shakespearean sonnets set to Bryars music and narrated by Gavin Friday, whose pressing and husky spoken voice, at times chilling, was certainly distinctive. Friday’s own particular style of animation, intonation and interpretation was captivating, and fascinatingly delivered a performance that, at times, only mildly regarded the iambic pentameter. In contrast, the sung versions of the same text, which followed immediately, were admirably handled by soprano Peyee Chen and tenor John Potter. Their performance, perhaps more sedate than yesterday, juxtaposed Friday’s so well, that with each portrayal, it felt like coming to the sonnet for the first time, again.

Confirming the evening was a game of three halves, the final Act didn’t just shift gears, it brought us to an entirely different road; cabaret avenue. Mercy and Grand (2012) by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, arranged by Bryars, drastically transformed the mood. Opening dramatically with dynamic tango A Little Drop of Poison, Jess Walker, ahead of the Bryars-led ensemble chiming in on chorus, owned the stage. With maximum sass she performed a cracking selection of Waits/Brennan; these fabulous lyrical tales well told, and consummately performed. Waits’ Pony was a highlight; with Julien Wilson on tenor saxophone, James Woodrow on electric guitar, and Bryars on double bass, Walker made we wish my old nag knew the way home too. Lullaby, with a rarely seen saw, bowed by percussionist Rebecca Lagos, brought us to a faux ending, before an un-programmed encore of Waits’ Johnsburg, Illinois closed the brilliant show.