Monday 25 July 2016

Far more than easy listening - Clara Sanabras' A hum about the ears

CLara Sanabras - A hum about mine ears
Clara Sanabras A hum about mine ears; Clara Sanabras, Chorus of Dissent, Britten Sinfonia, Nigel Kennedy, London Voices, Lisa Knapp, Young Dissenters, Harvey & the Wallbangers
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 1 2016
Singer/songwriter Clara Sanabras's song-cycle evoking Shakespeare's The Tempest

At first sight this album, A hum about mine ears on Smudged Discs, has every sign of being a concept album, cooked up in the studio. Songs by the singer/songwriter Clara Sanabras all themed around Shakespeare's The Tempest, with the participation of artists as diverse as Chorus of Dissent and the Young Dissenters, the Britten Sinfonia, Nigel Kennedy, London Voices, Lisa Knapp and Harvey and the Wallbangers. Reading the small print you discover that Harvey Brough (of Harvey and the Wallbangers) both orchestrated and conducted the music as well as acting as chorus master for the youth choir, the Young Dissenters.

But though there is indeed something 'concept album' about it, particularly as different parts were recorded in different places, the work was in fact commissioned by Ruth Whitehead and Chorus of Dissent (a community choir local to where Clara Sanabras lives) and the work was premiered live before it was recorded.

It is effectively a song-cycle and the nine movements take a varied approach to Shakespeare's text.
The opening song, I cried to dream again sets Shakespeare directly (Caliban's speech from Act 3, Scene 2), as does Yellow Sands (setting a trio of Ariel's famous songs), and the closing song Prospero's Soliloquy sets Prospero's final words. The remaining songs though set Sanabras's own words, in which she invokes Shakespeare's characters in terms of the contemporary concerns of her own, with ideas of exile and displacement, as well as Miranda being rather more of a spunkier modern girl.

Though Sanabras clearly has a voice which relies heavily on microphone technique, and it would be impossible to imagine the vocal line performed acoustically, the fact that orchestrations use a traditional symphony orchestra with no electronic instruments, combined with the 38 singers of the choir, means that the disc has an interesting cross-over feel (in the best possible sense). Indeed, for me Harvey Brough's imaginative orchestrations (far more than simply backing) contribute immensely to my enjoyment of the disc.

Sanabras's style is distinctively unique, she combines blues and jazz with a strong folk element. A number of the songs use the voice of Lisa Knapp as Ariel, and on Travellers Never Did Lie we include Harvey and the Wallbangers, plus the Young Dissenters accompanied by bass, drums, piano and Indian harmonium, creating an attractive popular song which is perhaps the furthest from Shakespeare. At the centre is the instrumental movement, The Tempest, Himself which features Nigel Kennedy.

I rather enjoyed this disc, and found Sanabras's song making talent extremely intriguing. She writes quite large scale pieces (movements lasting five or six minutes) but there is no sense of being over-extended. And the overall sound-world is appealing, and makes this far more than easy listening.

Clara Sanabras, orchestrated Harvey Brough - A hum about mine ears
Clara Sanabras (vocals)
Lisa Knapp (vocals)
Nigel Kennedy (violin)
Harvey & the Wallbangers
Chorus of Dissent
Young Dissenters
Britten Sinfonia
Harvey Brough (conductor)

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