Reviews: Ó Lionáird, Crash Ensemble – Imma, Dublin
Gavin Bryars — Anáil Dé.
Sean-nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird was the supporting act at the first appearance of the Gavin Bryars Ensemble in Ireland in 2004. That encounter sowed the seeds of Bryars’s new Anáil Dé (The Breath of God), settings of Irish spiritual texts for voice and an ensemble made up of two violas, cello, electric guitar and double bass. The new work was premiered at Imma on Friday by Ó Lionáird with members of the Crash Ensemble and the composer himself on double bass.
And it was presented in a sequence which mixed in some purely instrumental items from Bryars’s series of Laude (works which he has been writing to medieval texts for the last five or six years) and traditional arrangements. Strangely, the concert’s promoters, Note Productions, provided neither programme notes nor translations for the sung texts, and not a word of introduction to the work was provided from the stage.
Bryars has described the new piece as “a journey – a kind of space that you wander through”. On Friday that space was one where energy and activity were severely constrained and the atmosphere was consistently on the downbeat side of plaintive.
The writing was like a kind of slow-motion stirring in which almost everything was somewhat distended.
The effect was strangely desultory, even dreary, as if Bryars were hovering around the edges of some darkside New Age discovery.
Ó Lionáird’s husky vocals did not always sound entirely comfortable, and those numbers where he sang with greatest confidence – the arrangements of Cogar na nAingeal and Go mBeannaitear Duit a Mhuire – stood out for the ease and firmness of their delivery.
The high points came in some of the lonely guitar solos. They created pools of desolation of the kind that are frequently heard accompanying movie images depicting forsaken landscapes and urban dereliction.
The moments of harmonic focus that play such an important role in animating Byrars’s best work were, sadly, conspicuous by their absence. – Michael Dervan