International Record Review

My review in May of Sadie Harrison’s collaboration with Lithuanian musicians, ‘An Unexpected Light’, prompted a wish for her earlier Afghanistan project to be recorded. In fact ‘The Light Garden’ was released some time ago, hence this belated review. The earlier sequence differs in that the distinction between traditional and composed music is emphasized by their alternation, though the extent of Harrison’s immersion and the intensity of her response is no less evident.

An ensemble piece in the Bairami mode is followed by The Light Garden, with clarinet, piano and string trio taking the râg as basis for a cumulative interplay of gentle and aggressive music, beofre a static coda where clarinet laments the eradication of the Afghan source (a corollary, perhaps, to the destruction of so much of that country’s past culture during the Taliban regime’s reign of terror). After a lyrical improvisation on a Herati love-song, The Fourteenth Terrace draws clarinet and ensemble into a musical translation of the ‘paradise garden’ that is the resting place of sixteenth-century warrior and poet Zahiru’d-din Muhammad Babur; a restless first half building to a powerful climax and a calm yet desolate slow section. A Sufi-inspired lullaby, This is God, plaintively sung by Veronica Doubleday. Offers repose – then May this goodness last forever draws on the inscriptions on, and proportions of, Babur’s tomb in a work where solo violin moves with chaconne-like severity through recollections of the previous pieces towards a luminous ending in which the initial râg returns to the fore. A Herati folk-song from the ensemble brings about an alluring close.

The performances are as committed as expected from artists of the stature of Andrew Sparling and Peter Sheppard Skaerved, with the Tate Ensemble and Lontano adept in their all-round contributions. Balance is just a little too tightly focused in Harrison’s works but suits the Afghan pieces ideally. Booklet notes are highly informative, while a multimedia element features a range of articles on Afghanistan musical culture and Harrison’s response to it. Would that all such projects were so well documented and, moreover, that all fusions of ‘world’ and ‘art’ music evinced such individuality and conviction.

—Richard Whitehouse