CD review: Gavin Bryars – The Fifth Century

First published in the Guardian on 1 December, 2016

Gavin Bryars: The Fifth Century
PRISM Quartet / The Crossing (ECM)

“In an ideal world,” says Gavin Bryars, “I would choose to write vocal music.” And although the Yorkshire minimalist only came to voices relatively late, his house style is an easy fit: those spacious progressions unfolding at what he describes as “a human rate”; that formula for evoking meaningful timelessness out of scrunchy new harmonies and tropes of old spirituality. The Fifth Century (2014) is a big piece for saxophone quartet and choir with words taken from the 17th century English mystic Thomas Traherne. It’s sullen, cloying and rather aimless; the saxes weave around like extra voices — think Garbarek and the Hilliards but more of everything — and the blended sound of The Crossing and PRISM is creamy and pliable. This all-Bryars release also includes his Two Love Songs (2010), airy settings of Petrarch sonnets for a cappella female choir, sung with chilly grace.