“Playback level should be set low to reflect the quietude of the music”. Bryn Harrison’s advice on his concise liners must not be entirely trusted, unless you want to miss an awful lot of bewitching tone oscillations derived from the engagement between Philip Thomas’ lingering upper partials. Together with the inexpressible uncertainty generated by the unendingly re-circulating lines dictated by the score, those resonant features contribute to render Vessels an engrossingly sincere piano piece.
The overall climate might vaguely recall a classic “from-the-other-side-of-the-house” setting, this nostalgic listener picturing an antisocial student intent on practicing dissonant combinations in a placid afternoon. However, Bolton’s Harrison — whose artistic roots received essential nourishment from Gavin Bryars’ enlightened teachings, among others — is quick to stress that this is authentically challenging material even for a disciplined performer, lacking the natural proclivity to some kind of resolution. This adaptation of a previous 22-minute version was recorded in a single take, our hats going off to Thomas’ mix of tightness, endurance and belief: sustaining 76 minutes without failing — allowing the music to thoroughly retain its grace in the meantime — is not for everybody. The player’s involvement, his passion for the work, are clear from the very first listen. The cyclical recurrence factor becomes a major plus when added to the unostentatious resplendence emanated by the combined pitches.
Usual suspect Morton Feldman may unavoidably be quoted here and there when someone faces the chore of putting Vessels inside a correspondence of references. Still, do not treat it as a mere ramification, for it would be extremely unfair to both of these artists. I distinctly perceive the accuracy of the compositional decisions through the hands and mind of the pianist; the latter’s coalition with the surrounding silence seals a rewarding acoustic statement.