THOMAS BARTLETT & NICO MUHLY, PETER PEARS ★★★★
Balinese Ceremonial Music Nonesuch/Warners
The cryptic title is the first clue that this latest collaboration from Gloaming pianist Thomas Bartlett and New York composer Nico Muhly will give up its secrets slowly. Operatic tenor Peter Pears was Benjamin Britten’s partner – in life and in music – and the pair lived together with other artistic waifs and strays in Brooklyn in the early 1940s. Also there was pioneering musicologist Colin McPhee, the real hero of this record, whose field notations of Balinese ceremonial music in the 1930s would be the first examples of the gamelan to reach western ears. Britten and McPhee’s scratchy recordings of those transcriptions for two pianos provide the inspiration for this extraordinary collection of songs. Alongside three faithful renderings of McPhee’s notations sit nine new songs, delicate beds of glitch beats, plonky pianos and tuned percussion, with Bartlett’s soft voice murmuring lyrics culled from half-forgotten childhood memories. What it all means may take many listenings to discover, but one senses it will be worth it.