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Harvey's immersion in both Buddhism and Wagner's writing and music shows through the vivid, highly coloured and contrasted score played virtuosically by Ictus, conducted with brilliant precision by Martyn Brabbins, enriched through real time processing of the twenty one instruments mixed live by the composer, in association with Gilbert Nouono's IRCAM sound design. Striking Wagnerian allusions include the low brass gestures that begin and end the work, and radical reincarnations of the Tristan Prelude as when Prakriti sings to the Buddha of her womanly desire for Ananda. A different allusion to the past is the transformation of Schubert's song Lob der Tranen which Cosima sings, distraught at the thought of Carrie Pringle, who is the catalyst for the intermingling of outer and inner action and onto whom the dying Wagner projects his Prakriti-like renunciation of desire.

Foreground: Bracha van Doesburgh (Carrie Pringle) and Johan Leysen (Wagner). Background right: Dale Duesing (Buddha) and Claire Booth (Prakriti). Photo © 2007 Clärchen and Matthias Baus
Foreground: Bracha van Doesburgh (Carrie Pringle) and Johan Leysen (Wagner). Background right: Dale Duesing (Buddha) and Claire Booth (Prakriti). Photo © 2007 Clärchen and Matthias Baus

The actors' sprechgesang is spoken over complex textures with echoes of Maxwell Davies or Berio, at times in the pensive high strings, blurring syncopations, growling low brass, tom-toms, all of which sets a mood of intensity and dark passion. At Wagner's heart attack the music becomes ferocious, stormy (in fact there is a storm), all the more starkly contrasted with the calm of the Wotan-like Buddha guide Vairochana, portrayed powerfully by Matthew Best whose rich bass and immobile presence conveyed guruesque authority. The transitions, whether gradual or sudden, are especially dramatic, as when the bell with which Wagner calls for help morphes into Buddhist gongs, preceding the lengthy philosophical confrontation, between Wagner, resisting his fate, and Vairochana, who wisely observes 'the world is not your enemy -- the only enemy you have is yourself, and the only friend'.

Johan Leysen as Wagner and Matthew Best as Vairochana. Photo © 2007 Clärchen and Matthias Baus
Johan Leysen as Wagner and Matthew Best as Vairochana. Photo © 2007 Clärchen and Matthias Baus

Harvey's music moves through moments of almost violent energy and transcendent calm. Even within the more modernist idiom there are echoes of eastern sounds and modes such as the chant-like 'Prayer for protection' sung by the semi chorus in the pit, which is electronically and exotically treated with scratchy string gestures and shimmering percussion.

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Copyright © 17 July 2007 Malcolm Miller, London UK

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