Senegalese Song: O Lulum; Magnificat I; The silent land; Ave verum corpus; Stabat mater
Sophie Bevan (soprano), Kate Symonds-Joy (mezzo-soprano). Ben Alden (tenor), Jonathan Sells (bass), Raphael Wallfisch (cello); The Dmitri Ensemble/Graham Ross
Naxos 8.572595 68:18 mins
BBC Music Direct £5.99
We open with one of Giles Swayne’s field recordings of a Senegalese
work song O Lulum, whose refrain then finds its way into Swayne’s
own Magnificat I. If this arouses
the expectation (or dread) that
we’re in for yet another incautiously blended World Music buffet, then prepare to be agreeably surprised.
In any case, Swayne was making
his researches in Africa long before musical fusion cooking became the rage. As Magnificat I shows very enjoyably, like the great ethnologist-composers of the past (Bartók for example), Swayne makes everything
he incorporates his own. So much
so that in the recent, and very impressive Stabat mater, it’s more or
less impossible to play ‘spot the roots’.
The semi-tonal chanted repetitions of the name ‘Allah’ in the ‘Muslim blessing of the dead’ have a strangely peaceful ritual quality – ‘authentic’
in some mysterious way, yet unlike anything I’ve heard from the
Muslim world. Stabat mater has its entirely Western passages of thorny complexity and acerbic harmony, but these are thrown into relief by lucid vistas of touching simplicity.
And Swayne is expert in his handling of unaccompanied shoral resources. The earlier The silent land is a harder listen: long stretches of dense dissonant polyphony may tax
the listener’s powers of attention.
Yet everyhting is held together by a sense of sustained, muscular line rare among modern British composers. A very worthwhile disc, foregrounding
a composer who should be much
more widely appreciated. Excellent performances and recordings.