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Gavin Bryars shows why he is one of the greats

CLASSICAL

Gavin Bryars, "The Fifth Century" and "Two Love Songs" performed by Prism Quartet and The Crossing conducted by Donald Nally (ECM New Series).

Gavin Bryars is one of the handful of truly great living classical composers. With one of them -- Polish master Kryszstof Penderecki -- visiting Buffalo this weekend to guest conduct the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, this represents another branch entirely of the tree of current music's aristocracy.

On this branch, you'll also find Arvo Part, John Adams, Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Bryars is 73 years old and a composer of choral music of exceptional beauty and, in some cases, visionary imagination. What is heard in beautiful performance on this record is a setting of texts by "English poet and theologian Thomas Traherne," a 17th century mystic who, Bryars tells us, "was unknown for 200 years" but was first published in the first decade of the 20th century and re-configured our understanding of the metaphysical poets. Bryars calls Traherne's work "astonishingly modern with its unwitting 'Eastern Sound' and feeling."

A lesser work, setting two love sonnets of Petrarch, fills out the disc. Notater Brian Morton, in typically allusive ECM style, says "here is music that makes eternity audible, and in the process, makes the words of an obscure shoemaker's son from Hereford (even this isn't certain) resonate with the present age where the boundaries of physics and metaphysics are blurred once more." Great music, sumptuously performed.

3 1/2 stars (out of four)

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