Salt in the Blood – the opening work on this CD – sets a very eerie scene right from the word go. It is the sorrowful tale of sailors Billie Beck & Daniel Stone who argue over who is the better dancer. Daniel is soon accidentally killed by a falling sail but Billie is blamed by the crew. In a series of dramatic changes of weather, Daniel’s ghost appears and Billie climbs the mast to investigate, and is later found hanging among the sails. The story is told with the use of sea shanties set in a landscape of brassy music playing in styles ranging between Gershwin and Britten, if that is possible, augmented by text from 19th century logs, the Beaufort Scale, Bram Stoker and original material. All this is blended into a dramatic and haunting whole which both chills and excites.
The Darkness Is No Darkness is a setting of S S Wesley’s ‘Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace’ and is performed a cappella. Clearly intended as an inspirational piece for the pious, it soars and dives beautifully, and would indeed lift the hearts of all but the most philistine among us.
A mystical poem by Martin Shaw provides the text for First Light. The musical setting is cosmic in nature and one is carried into flights through colourful exploding nebulae and darker regions of the unmapped sectors of outer (and inner) space, which adequately describes the story to those of us too prosaic to clearly comprehend the depths & nuances of the poet’s words.
Interestingly, The Snow Descends is not actually a choral piece at all. The composer describes it as a paraphrase of her choral work, ‘Gleams of a Remoter World’ – a setting of words from Shelley’s ‘Mont Blanc’. It is a beautiful brass instrumental work which swings from contemplative to stirring and back again in mere instants.
Title track The Secret Garden deals with the nature of Eden after the Fall. The scope of its 5 movements extends to take in ideas relating to how God might have reacted, the Linnaean description and naming of plants and insects, the bombing of the Adam Tree at Qurna during the Iran-Iraq War and questions arising from a possible return to a state of Paradise, should the earth be deprived of Human Life.
In all these works, although the subject matter might be challenging, the music is never inaccessible – it always goes a long way to put the difficult philosophical concepts it illustrates into palatable helpings which aid in making the fayre far more digestible.
Essential listening for anyone looking for exciting departures from the run-of-the-mill.