Beamish: The Imagined Sound of Sun on Stone; No, I’m not afraid; The Caledonian Road; The Day Dawn

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beamish
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: The Imagined Sound of Sun on Stone; No, I’m not afraid; The Caledonian Road; The Day Dawn
PERFORMER: John Harle (saxophone), Sally Beamish (narrator); Swedish CO/Ola Rudner
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1161
This is the second recording by BIS of Sally Beamish’s music, and the four pieces it contains confirm utterly her high standing. Her work is thoughtfully lyrical, intense, individual, instinctively dramatic, in ways that remind me somewhat of Nicholas Mawmusic. Like him she has a particular gift for expressive harmony and timbre. The earliest piece here is No, I’m not afraid (1989), six poignant poems written from prison by Irina Ratushinskaya spoken – by Beamish herself – against sparse but hugely effective instrumental backgrounds and interspersed with five purely instrumental interludes.

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The disc opens with The Caledonian Road of 1997. The name of this piece refers not just to the north London thoroughfare remembered by Beamish from childhood but to her own pilgrimage northward to Scotland, where she now lives. The music resonates with a sense of ritual, of something inevitable. By contrast, the work that follows, the unabashedly poetic The Day Dawn (written for a summer school organised by Contemporary Music-making for Amateurs in 1997, and revised in 2000) derives from a Shetland fiddle tune, and is all about new beginnings.

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And finally there’s the saxophone concerto The Imagined Sound of Sun on Stone (1999), whose starting point is a Swedish herding call – used as a kind of ritornello – but which is drenched in a plethora of references primeval, religious, mystical and contemporary, music at once hard and soft edged. Fine playing from the soloist, John Harle, in this work and throughout the disc by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra under Ola Rudner. Stephen Pettitt