Whether the twenty-one string-players gathered here are Primavera regulars I know not; I am reliably informed of a number of personnel changes since Manley and Primavera premiered the Bryars on 22 October last year. While everybody involved was undoubtedly committed, the impression was of under rehearsal and no overall interpretative view; the instrumentalists sole intention being to get through the evening as best they could. Monotonous renditions resulted, the players varying abilities all too obvious. Poor intonation, suspect ensemble, and a tonal blend that was, shall we say, less than mellifluous informed the performances.
Rendering Grosse Fuge with this number of strings is a halfway house. The musics difficulty for both performers and listener is best experienced as Beethoven intended, as a string quartet; yet take a great symphony orchestras full resources and the result can be overwhelming recordings by Furtwangler and Klemperer prove the point. Primaveras scrappy, thin-toned account reduced Beethovens exalted vision to something serenade-like, his uncompromising argument barely suggested; the wildness and angularity of the home stretch did at least find the players addressing the music rather than signalling their misgivings.
The actual serenade of the evening was determined, with tempos well chosen, but the all-purpose vigour became wearing. Spirit, yes, but Dvorak needs to be sweeter-toned and more imaginatively phrased and coloured than here. The Villa-Lobos was dull and studied, the fugue cautious and mechanical sight-read possibly, and not accurately.
Gavin Bryars writes of Primaveras alertness. Yet, throughout, there were precious few signs of the chamber interaction that such a quality should bring. Although this London premiere appeared tentative, The Bulls of Bashan still made a positive impression. Writing in 1914, Cecil Forsythe complained of the noise and solemn cabalistic rite of string players attaching mutes And all this occurs when inventors are as thick as bulls in Bashan.
Bryarss concerto is a thoughtfully crafted, anti-display piece, for the most part slow-moving, which makes great play with mutes, on or off of course, and also in staggered transitions from bars 223-234 the composer requests: add mutes one player at a time until all are muted. Much of the solo part is high-lying, which troubled Paul Manley somewhat; I also felt the composer in attendance notwithstanding that the music could have sounded less static, which would have intensified the cantabile design and made the listener less aware of the musics internal construction, the latter a possible consequence of limited rehearsal time. However, at nineteen minutes, this performance was only a minute longer than the score suggests; and it didnt appear its length.
Always lyrical and melodic, with a vein of nostalgia, Bryarss concerto might well begin at dawn, the use of mutes creating a misty atmosphere before a spring-like idyll (recalled from an autumnal perspective) emerges. Intimations of Vivaldi and warm string sonorities, enlivened by pizzicatos and gentle trills, breeze in an Italian connection, the Mediterranean variegation of Pizzetti and Respighi; Bryars gently enriches his textures by two-part writing for violas and cellos, with separate parts for Primaveras two double basses. The solo part is tailored to a player who is also directing. Bryarss basically slow meditation reminds of Finzi in its introspection and subtlety of means; I liked it and look forward to another hearing.
- Gavin Bryars has a web page at www.gavinbryars.com