Time Unwrapped at Kings Place – Aurora Orchestra with Iestyn Davies & Nico Muhly – Old Bones

Gymnopédie No.3
Thomas Adès
The Lover in Winter
Danses sacrée et profane
Nico Muhly
Clear Music; Motion; Old Bones [world premiere of new arrangement]
Zwei Gesänge, Op.91 – I: Gestillte Sehnsucht
The Four Quarters, Op.28
Time Stands Still [arr. Muhly]

Iestyn Davies (countertenor); Sally Pryce (harp); John Reid (piano & celesta); Principal Players of Aurora Orchestra

Reviewed by: Amanda-Jane Doran

Reviewed: 23 November, 2018
Venue: Hall One, Kings Place, London

Iestyn DaviesPhotograph: Chris SorensenAll music contains and is contained by time; the Time Unwrapped series at Kings Place has investigated this existential role. This Aurora Orchestra programme was devised by Iestyn Davies and Nico Muhly, intelligently contrasting vocal and chamber works, fusing elements of polyphony and medieval love poetry with the recent music of Muhly and Thomas Adès.

The mysterious and elusive mood was conveyed from the start by John Reid in Satie’s Gymnopédie No.3, followed by Adès’s spare song-cycle The Lover in Winter setting four ancient and taut lyrics. Davies’s immaculate instrument communicated the extremes of seasonal cold and the heat of love, Ades’s harmonic world catching the moment where love makes time stop and expand. Muhly’s engagingly spiky and elegant Clear Music for cello, harp and celesta followed, while Motion seems a supercharged paean to speed, but is in fact based on Orlando Gibbons’s anthem ‘See, See the Word’ and the adrenaline rush Muhly felt as a chorister riding the runs and counting for his entries: the wild child of Steve Reich and John Adams has a complex musical pedigree. Debussy’s Danses sacrée et profane contributed beautiful and otherworldly textures, Sally Pryce delivering gorgeous arpeggios. In the Brahms Davies was convincing and Doric Quartet viola-player Hélène Clément impressed, but the overall effect was rather solid and grave.

Muhly’s Old Bones was inspired by the discovery of the remains of Richard III in 2013 and was originally composed for voice and lute. This was its first outing in a new arrangement, conducted by the composer. Cantata-like in shape, it moves through conversational reportage to poetic aria with Davies in virtuosic control; Aurora Orchestra was sensitively led by Alexandra Wood with lyrical clarinet flourishes from Peter Sparks. Ades’s Four Quarters dissects time and space. The higher instruments sear and stretch transparently over darker chords from viola and cello in ‘Nightfalls’ and the vibrant pizzicato in ‘Morning Dew’ was almost mechanical in its visceral water-drop effects, while ‘Days’ is marked by a repetitive heartbeat. The energy and detail of Aurora’s performance was mesmerising, and ‘The Twenty-fifth Hour’ resolved and then dissolved into unearthly harmonics. Davies returned for Dowland’s ‘Time stands still’, and as an encore he offered an aria from Muhly’s Marnie; Davies has just performed the role of Terry at the Met.

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