Sally Beamish: Caledonian Road, etc./Harle

Review by: Victor Carr Jr

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 10

British composer Sally Beamish’s (b. 1956) career didn’t take off until 1990, even though she had been composing since the age of four. Beamish’s language is distinctly modern yet she writes in a primarily lyrical style that makes her music easily accessible. The four works here reveal different aspects of Beamish’s deeply emotional and reflective artistic personality. The Caledonian Road opens with a plaintive oboe melody of a faintly Scottish character, establishing an atmosphere of isolation before the timpani steal in, Sibelius like, leading to agitated permutations in the full orchestra. The Day Dawn, scored for string orchestra, was inspired by an old Shetland fiddle tune and it varies in style and texture from country dancing to the shimmering sonic tapestry of John Adams’ Shaker Loops.

No, I’m not afraid is a setting of six poems by Irina Ratushinskaya written during her years in a Soviet prison. Beamish juxtaposes the spoken verses against music that is at times nervously playful and at others deeply contemplative and poignant. Beamish herself provides the narration; her gentle voice and British accent lend an air of refinement to the verses that contrasts dramatically with Brian Elias’ painfully bleak songs based on five of these same poems (type Q3661 in Search Reviews).

The Imagined Sound of Sun on Stone, a Concerto for soprano saxophone and chamber orchestra, depicts “the moment at the solstice when light enters the prehistoric tomb.” It begins with the haunting sound of a saxophone imitating a Swedish herding call, and from there the piece explores a variety of sounds “stored in stone for millennia”, everything from primitive percussion to chants and psalms from Christian religious traditions. Saxophonist John Harle marvelously projects the music’s power and rawness in his freewheeling solo performance, while Ola Rudner and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra provide idiomatic accounts of the orchestral scores. BIS’ engineers grace the production with their usual startlingly realistic sound. A compelling introduction to Beamish’s music, a composer well worth investigating. [2/14/2002]



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

SALLY BEAMISH - The Caledonian Road; The Day Dawn; No, I'm not afraid; The Imagined Sound of Sun on Stone


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