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Gavin Bryars & Iarla Ó Lionárd with The Crash Ensemble

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The world premiere of Anáil Dé (Irish for "The Breath of God"), a new work by Gavin Bryars, featured the man himself in concert with the finest in Irish contemporary and traditional music. This particular commission stems from a previous collaboration with sean-nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird and is based on Irish religious texts from the 9th century all the way up to the 20th. The meeting of traditional folk styles and contemporary composition is not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination but Bryars has succeeded in merging his distinctive manner of composing with a style of singing that often resists assimilation by modern music.


14 November, Dublin, Ireland

Anáil Dé is a far cry from Bryars’ famous early works and indeed is a slight shift away from his recent music too. At time it is a little reminiscent of his 1990 album After the Requiem, particularly with the style of electric guitar utilised on that recording and in this performance (Bill Frisell being the guitarist on that album and Leo Abrahams here). On “Tórramat do Nóegaingil” (“May Thy Holy Angels Tend”), Abrahams’ guitar cuts through the strings and underpins Ó Lionárd’s singing beautifully. The juxtaposition of Ó Lionárd’s very traditional singing and Abrahams’ very modern processed guitar worked really well. However, for most of the other pieces the guitar takes a more background role, providing background texture and creating a sense of depth through large amounts of delay.

As these pieces were written with Ó Lionárd in mind (and I believe he selected the texts to be sung), the arrangements had been tailored to suit his own style of singing. Sean nós singing is usually unaccompanied so the addition of electric guitar, cello, double bass and two violas is not exactly by the book but no one in the audience was complaining. In fact, Bryars was incredibly sympathetic to Ó Lionárd’s voice, switching between almost a cappella arrangements and busier pieces where all the players joined in (but never swamped the vocals). Multiple times the music swayed between a delicate tonality and momentary dissonances which mirrored the earthy sean nós singing.

The Crash Ensemble are already extremely familiar with Bryars having worked with him previously on performances of Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet and The Sinking of the Titanic. This familiarity was obvious from the body language on display; slight nods and sways of a violin bow between Bryars and the other musicians gave rise to alterations in emphasis and mood. A number of instrumental pieces were included in the program to show off The Crash Ensemble’s fine playing, solos for viola and cello providing dreamy interludes between the powerful vocal pieces.

As the concert was recorded, with any luck this will make its way out on CD at some stage as it was a remarkable night deserving of wider attention. Unfortunately, further performances do not look that likely considering the second of the two performances planned had been cancelled. That and the arguable necessity of having Ó Lionárd present for all performances might be a barrier for renditions of Anáil Dé on an international scale. Nevertheless, the piece exists and it is beautiful, someone out there must have the vision to share this with the world.

Last Updated on Sunday, 11 January 2009 01:28  


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