A Bridge of Dreams
27 January 2012
American Record Guide
This gave every appearance of being a real oddball: goofy-looking white dots all over the cover, an inscrutable title, composers I’d never heard of (save for Lou Harrison), and a unifying theme of “a cappella music from the Pacific Rim”. (Excuse me? Where?) Turns out, though, that this is a delightful release full of worthy music and performances that bring it alive with infectious joy. The Pacific Rim angle isn’t quite the “Music Around the World” tour I expected. But each of the works does pay homage to some aspect of life on or near the world’s largest ocean.
At nearly 24 minutes, Lou Harrison’s Cecilia Mass is the longest work of the program. I listened before I read the notes, and immediately started wondering what the Asian fuss was about. It’s in Latin after all, with patterns of medieval plainsong leading the spiritual charge. (Nobody conducts such stuff these days better than Maestro Hillier, by the way.) But it doesn’t take long to get to the punch line: those chant intervals you’re hearing aren’t Western. They’re imbued with the spirit of China, and there’s the rub—er, rim. The sound of Andrew Lawrence-King’s harp transports one even further eastward, especially in the Sanctus. All in all, it’s a fascinating meeting of cultural minds and a lovely celebration of spirit!
Russ Edwards’s Kingfisher Psalms are engaging too, with a sassy ‘Beatus Vir’ and a meditative Psalm 130 leading up to a fugal “bird chant” where the aboriginal names offeathered friends native to Australia’s southeastern coast fly in contrapuntally. It’s quite something—sort of a multi-cultural take on Janequin’s ‘Chansons des Oiseaux’. Jack Body’s Lullabies are introspective songs full of close harmonies sung in imaginary languages redolent of Chinese, Japanese, and African dialects. The Seafarer is another venture in musical pluralism: an Anglo-Saxon poem (recited by Paul Hillier) set atop a Japanese accompaniment composed by Liu Sola.
The true stunner of the set is the Bridge of Dreams spanned by the music of Ann Boyd, the first woman to be named a Professor of Music at the University of Sydney. This wordless 11-minute dream world inspired by visions and sonorities of 11th Century Japan manages to be elevating and humbling at the same time. Her shifting, turbulent colors have the power to transform, especially when communicated with the unmistakable sense of discovery felt by these singers.