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Harvey: Bird Concerto With Pianosong

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Audio CD, January 31, 2012
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Product Details

  • Performer: Hideki Nagano
  • Orchestra: London Sinfonietta
  • Conductor: David Atherton
  • Composer: Jonathan Harvey
  • Audio CD (January 31, 2012)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: NMC Recordings
  • ASIN: B005MIYI76
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #324,166 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
The late Jonathan Harvey, as a disciple of Messiaen, has produced music with the most classical mysticism deriving from his youthful experience in church and alter from his interest in Eastern mysticism, whilst at the same time using some of the most modern technology to expand his complex compositions.

Harvey achieved a complete synthesis with his "Bird Concerto with Pianosong", in the title track of which he manages to combine Messiaen-like piano with the natural birdsongs from which they were derived via a synthesiser. The amazing thing is that Harvey does this so precisely one does not know it is synthesised: it sounds so eerily like birds singing as I hear it when asleep in the morning. It does that even when one can see evidence of the use of synthesisers, and gives an orchestrated effect even Messiaen's and Gubaidulina's masterpieces seldom manage to do. The tones are varied enough to not lose interest, and the lack of any mechanical notes is so refreshing.

The remainder of "Bird Concerto with Pianosong" shows just how complete Harvey's ability had become by the time he premiered this in 2001. The third track "Other Presences" sounds almost like funk in its dense trumpet and synthesiser - which creates an effect that can only be described as a trance - before it moves into a softer tone that is still quite unlike any other sort of music known to man. It is a amazing contrast with the lightly-flowing title track, yet equally brilliant for a man in the twilight of his life - as I only realised just now.

The other two tracks are variations on the one theme " Ricercare Una Melodia" ("Search a Melody"), one with Gareth Hulse on oboe and the other with Tim Gill on cello.
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Format: Audio CD
The centerpiece of this 2011 Jonathan Harvey release is "Bird Concerto with Pianosong", which the late British composer wrote way back in 2001 and is only now recorded by the London Sinfonietta conducted by David Atherton. A pianist, here Hidéki Nagano, imitates bird song, but he also triggers recordings of 40 Californian birds' songs by pressing keys on a MIDI keyboard located next to the concert grand. This is an hommage to Messiaen, the French composer famously crazy for birdsong, but Harvey's piece sounds like no one other than Harvey. One can expect characteristic Harvey touches like electronic sounds moving in space and meditative passages. However, I must admit to boredom when listening to this concerto -- at a half-hour, it vastly overstays its welcome considering that its substance is rather simple. I would not rank it among his major pieces, at least on disc. In concert, where the sounds are flying around the concert hall, the effect might be altogether different.

But the disc also features several solo pieces for instruments and tape delay effects. "Ricercare una melodia" (1984) has been arranged for a number of instruments and is present here in its oboe (Gareth Hulse) and cello (Tim Gill) versions. The soloist is truly alone only for the first couple of seconds, and then rich counterpoint develops through earlier moments of his solo line being played back over whatever he has moved on to since. "Other Presences" for solo trumpet (2006, here played by Paul Archibald) is in the same vein, but benefits from slightly more advanced technology. In the beginning, the replayed trumpet sounds almost sound like a Tibetan horn, a sonority that has long interested the composer, but the playback then moves on to overtly electronic sounds.
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