Gavin Bryars is an unreconstructed romantic, producing luscious, velvety music that luxuriates in the beauty of tonal harmony. Much of the music is profoundly sad: textures throb, melodies soar. Saturday's evening concert of four works dating from 1983 to today showed how stylistically consistent Bryars has remained. Incipit Vita Nova (1989) for male alto (movingly sung by Hilliard supremo, David Jones) and three strings, celebrates the birth of a friend's child. The young Canadian soprano, Valdine Anderson, earned an immediate "bravo" for her stunningly pitched and freshly delivered Adnan Songbook, Bryars's latest work, a cycle of eight love poems on texts by Etel Adnan, five of which received their premieres on Saturday. Anderson delivered Adnan's evocative texts with rounded musical phrasing, hitting occasionally stratospherically high notes without strain. Bryars's work is scored for low instruments - two violas, cello, double bass, guitar and bass clarinet - allowing the voice to radiate. The text seems to have encouraged a wider view, the harmonic palette is expanded, the emotional message deeply felt: a good omen for the forthcoming opera. The Gavin Bryars Ensemble excelled.
There can be fewer odder balls than Melanie Pappenheim, whose delightfully dotty Saturday Night in London Town closed the fifth Almeida Opera Festival. In distinctly uneven material from Donna McKevitt, Helen Ottoway, Jeremy Payton-Jones, Graham Fitkin, Jocelyn Pook and Laurance Crane, her vibrato- less deadpan delivery, occasionally in a vocal threesome, suggests Almeida meets Womad. Pappenheim has alluring looks and an alluring personality that grips when she's in charge; we don't feel entirely safe in her hands. But Jocelyn Pook's touchingly batty woman's magazine Tango was a riot.Reuse content