So where is he today? Has the irony washed off? Does today's "establishment" really offer a more accepting environment for a composer who says, "The sound I dislike most is the development noise in Brahms's symphonies"? The answer is, of course, a resounding yes. With a pop-style launch last week for the CD of his new cello concerto, Farewell to Philosophy (commissioned, unusually, by a record company, Philips, for its contemporary music label, Point Music), and a new opera around the corner (commissioned jointly by ENO and the BBC), Bryars has in every sense arrived.
But last Thursday's St John's concert, in which the cello concerto had its live premiere, did not - with the exception of the soloist, Julian Lloyd Webber - exactly reflect the CD. In place of the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by James Judd, the New London Orchestra under Ronald Corp here did the honours - but, alas, in no way so effectively. As with so much of Bryars' recent music, the mood is plangent, the tempo slow. In a single movement lasting 35 minutes, Lloyd Webber is the perfect soloist, with a soulful, melancholy sound that touchingly responds to Bryars' somnolent mood. In no work is Bryars more sure of instrumental colour - the opening low rumbling for tam-tam, harp and cor anglais from which the cello emerges is stunning. But the apparently undemanding accompanimental figures over which the cello soars - this is a serene, lyrical work without virtuoso demands - are deceptive. If the shading of phrasing and dynamic is missing or the instrumental blend in Bryars' rich harmonies less than perfect, the impact is severely reduced, regrettably the case in Thursday's performance. But Bryars has written a work of great beauty that will without doubt become a chartbuster.
Annette MorreauReuse content