'This is distinctive, pungent music that demands close attention' Guardian 2005


The Light Garden

Metier MSVCD92804

Grant Chu Covell, LA FOLIA (2007)

Heard from the next room it might be possible to confuse Sadie Harrison’s eloquently crafted compositionswith the interleaved traditional Afghani music. Both styles are elegantly played and wonderfully recorded. Metier releases always sound excellent. David Lefeber has curated a catalog of consistently impressive discs. In such lofty company, this one still stands out.

The four-person Ensemble Bakhtar gets things rolling with Naghma-ye kashâl Bairami, a traditional Afghani piece intended to be played at a concert’s start. The lute-like rubâb and violin-like Pontic lyra float iridescently over harmonium and tabla. Harrison’s The Light Garden, for clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano, follows. Modeled on the Naghma-ye kashâl form (“bairami” in the preceding tune’s title signifies its mode), two contrasting styles engagingly occupy the quarter-hour. Distinctly non-European in its mode and with the occasional spoken Persian syllables, Harrison’s silvery The Light Garden forges something new and convincing from disparate cultures. The Tate Ensemble plays devotedly; this is a labor of love.

Played by Pontic lyra and tabla, a traditional Herati lovesong, Bibi Gol Afruz (“Shining Flower Lady”), relaxes the pace before Harrison’s The Fourteenth Terrace for solo clarinet and ensemble. Here, too, Harrison has concocted something special. Through several contrasting sections, the clarinet’s liquid solos propel the supporting ensemble (two violins, viola, cello, bass, piano and percussion) into a frenzy which finally finds release in a well-earned eerie conclusion. No notes are out of place. Clarinetist Andrew Sparling plays magnificently. This piece, along with Harrison’s other two, was inspired by the gardens of Afghanistan’s 16th-century warrior-poet Zahiru’d-din Muhammad Babur.

Veronica Doubleday sings the poignant lullaby Allâh Hu before solo violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved concludes Harrison’s trilogy with the fiery Bavad Khair Baqi! Bakhtar’s musicians are British, Greek and Afghani. Doubleday is a British ethnomusicologist who trained in Heart and sings in Farsi with incredible passion and expression. A desperate piece, Bavad Khair Baqi! summarizes and resolves themes and images from the trilogy’s preceding parts. Skaerved plays intensely. The music ends much too soon.

Ensemble Bahktar has the last word in luminescent Herati folksong Siah Chesm-e Khumari (“Your Captivating Black Eyes”), voice and instruments finally combining. Hit the repeat button on your CD player and let the whole disc spin two or three times. Metier has accomplished something quite remarkable with Harrison’s amazing music and the Bakhtar’s vibrant playing. Indisputably one of this year’s best.

The disc also contains a wealth of multimedia material. There are musicians’ bios with photos taken during the recording sessions. Harrison also discusses the music’s background. Included are writings and links to material about the decimated Afghani music and the surrounding political issues.

Peter Grahame Woolf, MUSICAL POINTERS (2007)

The Light Garden is a 'cross-over' offering of the highest quality, with no compromise for popular taste and exemplifies the flexible approach to "serious" music which Musical Pointers aims to cover.

Today's confusion of genres is reflected in Metier's suggestion that this CD can be shelved under World Music and Classical Contemporary categories - both to cast an appropriately wide purchasing net! Its arrival, whilst reading the late Edward W Said's seminal book Orientalism, was timely.

Sadie Harrison's music is suffused with a deep knowledge and love for Afghanistan, The Light Garden based on the Afghan naghma-ye kashai, two contrasting moods juxtaposed with a 'darkly ironic' stance. The Fourteenth Terrace features the clarinet with ensemble, whereas Bavad Khair Baqi! is a 'condensed and fractured' derivation from the earlier works' material; 'meant to be a struggle - edgy, desperate, with suppressed aggression and exhausting'. It is an ideal vehicle for that most veratile and innovative of violinists, Peter Sheppard Skærved. Sadie Harrison's works are interposed with traditional Afhgan music, performed by leading experts in an unfamiliar field; just the right setting, and the tracks just the right lengths.

But what makes this CD unique, and one not to be missed on any account, is David Lefeber's multimedia presentation, which includes:

- an illustrated talk on the composition of the trilogy
- articles on the music and culture of Afghanistan
- biographies of composer and performers
- web links to numerous related sites
- photographs taken during the recording sessions

The latter are to be welcomed especially, because although the notes by Sadie Harrison, John Bailly and Veronica Doubleday are excellent, the postage stamp sized photos are really too small for the miniscule faces to register.

This is without question one of my top recordings of the year, a ground-breaking release which points to the future scope of CD presentation in a way similar to how OpusArte's Hidegard von Bingen issue does so for DVD. The Metier CD's given total timing is a very sufficient 68 minutes, but the package offers you several additional hours instruction and illumination. The extras are easy to access and navigate; they work like a charm and enhance enjoyment and appreciation exponentially.

Andrew Clements, THE GUARDIAN (2007)

Interleaved with traditional vocal and instrumental music from Afghanistan, Sadie Harrison's trilogy, inspired by the life and writings of the Afghani warrior-poet Zahiru'd-din Muhammad Babur, evokes the same rawedged sound world. Wind instruments are pushed into their highest registers, while skirling, abrasive strings bulk out the textures. The instrumentalists are also required to shout out texts while they play.

The opening piece The Light Garden, for a quintet of wind, strings and piano, takes its title from an inscription on Babur's tomb. The second, The 14th Terrace, for clarinet and ensemble, refers to the garden outside Kabul where he is buried, while the solo-violin Bavad Khair Baqi! recapitulates material from the earlier works, in a virtuoso context. It is distinctive, pungent music that demands close attention.


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 Sufiinspired 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.