White Light: The Space Between
Pärt: Silouan’s Song – My soul yearns after the Lord; Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten; Tavener: The Veil of the Temple – ‘Mother of God, Here I Stand’ with Sarod Improvisations; Lennon/McCartney: Across the Universe; Harrison: Within You Without You
O/Modernt Chamber Orchestra/ Hugo Ticciati
Signum Records SIGCD 532 117:04 mins (2 discs)
Since this double album comes with a 24-page booklet instructing us how to listen, I felt obliged to read it, but then wished I hadn’t. ‘White light’, as used here, is a phrase from Arvo Pärt’s comparison of his music to ‘white light, which contains all colours. Only a prism can divide the colours and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener’. Elegantly put, but what Hugo Ticciati and his fellow writers present us with is mere high-flown verbiage.
The name O/Modernt is Swedish for ‘un-modern’, but it also denotes the mystical chant ‘OM’; Ticciati and co want us to ‘rediscover the kaleidoscopic colours of the present moment… and to experience the all-encompassing white light which is the space that connects us all’. But they get carried away by their own ecstatic rhetoric, piling on portentous meanings, and setting up false antitheses. The way we perceive music is inescapably spatial – vertically and horizontally – even when we are sent into a religious trance by it; the latter doesn’t negate the former.
No, ignore the booklet and dive straight in, because this is all enjoyable music. O/Modernt, a string ensemble, have brought in players on the sarod (Soumik Datta) and tabla (Sukhvinder Singh Pinky), plus Ticciati’s regular duetting partner the cellist Matthew Barley and the harmonic singer Gareth Lubbe. Peteris Vasks’s lyrical outpouring Distant Light, movements from Tavener’s The Protecting Veil, and an orchestral raag in which O/Modernt is led by Ticciati and Barley, are the main elements, with a variety of improvisations interspersed between.
But with Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten Ticciati gives the game away. The sincerity and simplicity of this miniature masterpiece shows up the self-indulgence of the rest of O/Modernt’s exercise: it should have been placed last, and allowed to create its own momentous silence, rather than being followed by yet another whimsical little improvisation.