Tuesday 22 July 2014

Heroes Meet

Gavin Bryars - Heroes Meet
Gavin Bryars: Music from the Faroe Islands - Hövdingar hittast ("Heroes Meet")
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Jul9 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Gavin Bryars inspired by the legends of the Faroe Islands

Three works by Gavin Bryars inspired by the Faroe Islands, From Egil's Saga, The Company of the Blind and Tróndur of Gøtu, performed by Rúni Brattaberg (bass), Eivør Pálsdóttir (soprano), Eystanljóð (choir) & Aldubáran (orchestra), Gavin Bryars (conductor), Ólavur Jakobsen (guitar), Agnar Lamhauge (double bass), Eystanljóð (choir), Leif Hansen (conductor), released on Gavin Byrars own label under the title Hövdingar hittast ("Heroes Meet")

The heroes in question on this celebration of Faroe Island culture are Egil and Tróndur of Gøtu. Gavin Bryars was born in east Yorkshire in 1943 but he became interested in the Faroe Islands as a boy and over the years they attained a magical, mysterious quality which never left him.

Gavin Bryars
Gavin Bryars
Bryars early interest in music lay in improvisation, but abandoning this in the mid 60s he worked with John Cage and then with Cornelius Cardew and John White. His first opera, 'Medea' was performed in 1988 and since then he has written many dramatic works including two more operas and works for theatre and dance. But he has never left his roots in performance and can be sometimes spotted in the orchestra, at concerts of his music, playing bass.

'From Egil's Saga' was written in 2004 for the Faroese bass Rúni Brattaberg. The two men had met two years previously during rehearsals for Bryars' opera 'G' and, when asked to write something for the Eastern Orchestra Board, Bryars decided to set part of Egil Skalgrimmson's Icelandic epic 'Egil's saga' and use Brattaberg as a modern day Viking.

'Egil's saga' (written in the first person) is set in the 10th century. The text used follows Egil's life and also ties Iceland to Yorkshire - the first section is a 'praise poem' given by Egil to King Erik Bloodaxe in York as Egil pleads for his life. The second part is a lament for his son's deaths; the third in praise of an ally - Arinbjorn; and the final section relates his angry descent into blindness.

Runi Brattaberg
Runi Brattaberg
Bryars and Brattaberg travelled to the Faroe Islands to record elements of the performance: Brattaberg singing in the natural harbour at Gjógv, an inlet near Elduvik, and in a cathedral-like sea cave at Hestur. This last recoding can be heard to great effect during the prologue, where Brattaberg sounds like he is singing behind a waterfall.

The whole work is very atmospheric. Brattaberg's deep voice and smoothness over all his range portrays great sadness throughout and his high notes, especially towards the end of the piece as the character loses his sight, are straining and plaintive. The orchestra uses low pitched instrumentation - melodic runs on strings provide movement to brass tunes and long, held notes from Brattaberg. When the choir come in on the second track they are a mix of trained and untrained voices which occasionally leads to some imprecise tuning and hesitation, but in some ways this adds to the sorrowful effect.

Bryars wrote 'Tróndur of Gøtu' in 2007 in response to a request for a work to be performed at the raising of a statue to this hero on the Island of Eysturoy, which was to be played in their new church. This work incorporates Faroese poems by Janus Djurhuus (1881-1948) and his younger brother Hans Andreas Djurhuus (1883-1951), along with two settings of Tróndur's creed and two prayers of St Brendan (an Irish monk who it is thought visited the Faroe Islands in the 6th century).

Eivor Palsdottir
Eivor Palsdottir
The choir and Brattaberg sing the saga and creeds while the English words of St Brendan's prayers are sung by soprano Eivør Pálsdóttir. Pálsdóttir's voice is somewhere between classical and folk - a decidedly individual style that is very pleasant to listen to and reminiscent of ABBA. She uses vibrato sparingly and has very clear diction.

Instrumentally the orchestration is very similar to 'From Egil's Saga' with the same mixture of strings and smooth brass melodies. However there are also some changes to this formula including the simplicity of the creeds which use a chorale/hymn tune.

The work reaches its dramatic climax with 'Raise the Vociferous Chant' where Brattaberg casts a sorcerer's spell, against urgent piano rhythms, to protect the Faroe Islands. The tension builds up through this section to the bird's chorus after which the bass calms and leads to the final creed and (back to where it started) a prayer.

Between the two major works was included a short choral setting of 'The Company of the Blind' written by the Faroese poet Christian Matras (1900 - 1988). Matras was a professor of Faroese at the University of Copenhagen between 1952 and 1966. Not only did he write poetry, he translated other poets such as Robert Burns into Faroese.

'The Company of the Blind' was short and sung very sweetly by the choir. For this song Bryars had reduced the accompaniment to a simple guitar and double bass arrangement. Without the orchestra and soloists the style was more traditional in feeling and in keeping with the words.
Reviewed by Hilary Glover
From Egil's Saga
Rúni Brattaberg (bass), Eivør Pálsdóttir (soprano), Eystanljóð (choir) & Aldubáran (orchestra), Gavin Bryars (conductor)
  1. From Egil's Saga: Prologue
  2. From Egil's Saga, Pt. I: To Erik in York
  3. From Egil's Saga, Pt. II: Lament for My Sons
  4. From Egil's Saga, Pt. II: "Attak Got" ("The Spear-God Shared")
  5. From Egil's Saga, Pt. II: "Mjok Erum Tregt" ("The End Is All")
  6. From Egil's Saga, Pt. III: In Praise of Arinbjorn
  7. From Egil's Saga, Pt. IV: "Vals Hefk Vófur Helsis" ("My Bald Pate Bobs and Blunders")
  8. From Egil's Saga, Pt. III: "Nu Erum Torvelt" ("The End is All")
(recorded live in concert November 2011, Nordic House, Tórshavn)

Hitt blinda liðið (The Company of the Blind)
ólavur Jakobsen (guitar), Agnar Lamhauge (double bass), Eystanljóð (choir), Leif Hansen (conductor)
  1. Hitt blinda liðið (The Company of the Blind)
(recorded February 2012, Fríðrikskirkjan, Toftir)

Tróndur í Gøtu
Rúni Brattaberg (bass), Eivør Pálsdóttir (soprano), Eystanljóð (choir) & Aldubáran (orchestra), Gavin Bryars (conductor)
  1. Tróndur í Gøtu: The Journey Prayer (St Brendan)
  2. Tróndur í Gøtu: The Island of Birds (St Brendan)
  3. Tróndur í Gøtu: "I Føroyum Bú?u Menskir Fyrr" ("In Bygone Times, The Faroes")
  4. Tróndur í Gøtu: Tróndur's Creed I
  5. Tróndur í Gøtu: "Shall I Abandon" (St Brendan's Prayer)
  6. Tróndur í Gøtu: "Hevji? í Homrum" ("Raise the Vociferous Chant")
  7. Tróndur í Gøtu: "Streyk Tróndur Saer Um Enni?" ("Trondur Strokes His Forehead")
  8. Tróndur í Gøtu: Tróndur's Creed II
  9. Tróndur í Gøtu: "Tróndur Doy?i" ("Trondur Died")
(recorded November 2011, Nordic House, Tórshavn)
GB Records (2013)
BCGBCD20 1CD [66:38]

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