Tuesday, 2 October 2012

CD review - Songs of Solace

Songs of Solace
Christian Forshaw is a saxophonist with a distinguished pedigree - Guildhall trained and Professor of saxophone there when in his 20's, a varied career as performer, composer and teacher, performances with the Philharmonia, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Sinfonietta, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Ricardo Muti, Icebreaker, the Michael Nyman band and the Graham Fitkin ensemble. On this, his fourth disc, he is joined by Grace Davidson, Alexander Mason and Rob Farrer as the Sanctuary Ensemble. The disc is a response to Julie Nicholson's book A Song for Jenny which details the death of her daughter Jennie in the 7/7 London bombings.


Christian Forshaw was contacted by Julie Nicholson with a view to using one of his pieces at her daughter's funeral. Subsequently he developed this group of settings of texts quoted or mentioned in the book; a considered and thoughtful response to senseless loss.

On first listening to the CD I felt that the music had a distinctly jazz influenced feel about it, though the backgrounds of the performers is rather wider than that. Grace Davidson is a Royal Academy of Music trained soprano who was a finalist in the London Handel Festival Competition and who has made something of a specialism of baroque and early music. Organist Alexander Mason is the Director of Chapel Music at Shrewsbury School, previously he was Organist and Master of the Choristers at St. David's Cathedral. Rob Farrer trained in orchestral percussion at the Guildhall and then played in the Divine Comedy for ten years.

The first item sets the Ella Wheeler Wilcox poem, The Traveller with Forshaw describing the four members of the ensemble as travelling at different speeds. It opens with an attractive marimba rhythm over which Davidson floats beautiful vocals, albeit with indistinct words. To this are added discreet organ and saxophone. The result is of hypnotic beauty, effective and affecting.

The next item is a four movement setting of Shakespeare's Fear no more the heat of' the sun, though in fact the text only features in the final movement. The first movement,  Prelude, is an instrumental introduction with some strong ostinato features in the marimba providing rhythmic interest (Forshaw seems to be rather fond of ostinatos). This is followed by a more up tempo instrumental number, Where are you, where a big build up in the organ concludes with a loud recording of train travelling. Lament has Davidson keening wordlessly, getting more and more intense. Finally there is rather a rhythmically jazzy setting of Shakespeare's words over marimba, joined later by sax and organ, again with the feeling that all four are travelling different roads. The setting was not at all what I expected, in terms of style, but is rather effective. The whole is a very different style of musical response to loss than my own would be but seems eminently affecting and consoling.

Life's strange waltz is a rather eerie and unsettling waltz which uses quarter tones over a 12 tone accompaniment. The result giving something of the aura of the demented or haunted fairground.

Tears, idle tears sets Tennyson's poem, with Davidson floating over the top of an organ ostinato, to which saxophone and marimba are added. The setting is soothing rather than intensely pained, consoling rather than harrowing. It is in the next number, Defiled that the instrumentalists attempt to capture something of the horror of the event with an improvised instrumental number which builds to an almost unbearable pitch of intensity.

 A Time sets the text from Ecclesiastes, To every thing there is a season, with Davidson's voice a slow thread over a slow ground bass with just hints of marimba and sax, a very spare and powerful setting.

Next comes a short, and slightly curious reprised of Fear no more, with the ensemble joined by Sanctuary Voices (Natalie Clifton-Griffiths, Joanna Forbes L'estrange and Kate Trethewey), providing some brilliant singing. They also sing on Anointed, a five movement setting of a poem by Julie Nicholson. In this the four sopranos join together in some very fine, high singing which is hauntingly beautiful.

A reprise of The Traveller is followed by Remembrance an instrumental piece which was commissioned for the opening of the Hyde Park Memorial to the victims of 7/7. A piece which is intense and rather moving.

Ultimately a piece of music has to be divorced from its inspiration and live a life of its own. Christian Forshaw's response, in the pieces on this disc, is considered and thoughtful. The music is beautifully crafted and memorable, creating its own distinct sound world. It is certainly a disc that I could imagine listening to again.

Songs of Solace
Christian Forshaw - The Traveller [5.10]
Christian Forshaw - Fear no more [14.49]
Christian Forshaw - Life's strange waltz [3.30]
Christian Forshaw - Idle Tears  [5.06]
Christian Forshaw - Defiled [2.57]
Christian Forshaw - A Time [5.32]
Christian Forshaw - Fear no more (reprise) [0.53]
Christian Forshaw - Anointed [10.04]
Christian Forshaw - The Traveller (reprise) [1.03]
Christian Forshaw - Remembrance [4.02]
The Sanctuary Ensemble (Grace Davidson - soprano, Alexander Mason - organ, Rob Farrer - percussion, Christian Forshaw - saxophones/director)
The Sanctuary Voices (directed by Nigel Short)
Recorded at St Michael's Church, Highgate, London, 16 February 2012, St John the Baptist Church, Cockayne Hatley, Bedfordshire 5,6,12,13 March 2012
Integra Records ING1005

Further information and sales from Christian Forshaw's website.

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