Prima Facie release Sadie Harrison's CD 'Return of the Nightingales'
Return of the Nightingales is a celebration of four pianists with whom Sadie has collaborated extensively over the past decade - Philippa Harrison, Duncan Honeybourne, Ian Pace and Renee Reznek. As the majority of the pieces were premiered by these pianists, the disc is a showcase not just of Sadie’s music but also of each performer.
An extract from the introductory essay:
Just as its cover shows a piano mysteriously being placed on – or pulled out of? – a wall in a city ravaged by war, the music on this album emerges out of two silences: Sadie Harrison’s own, as a composer whose output a decade ago had slowed almost to a stop; and the larger silence, or silencing, which in the album’s title track becomes her subject – the prohibition on musical activity which was imposed by the Taliban government in Afghanistan in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
In the title track, the figure of the nightingale, familiar from classical Persian poetry, comes to stand for the return of music to Afghanistan in the nevertheless still troubled years after 2001, and the repeated appearance of nightingales throughout the works collected here – in the third of the four nocturnes collectively titled Lunae, in the evocation of Alabiev–Liszt’s ‘Le Rossignol’ as played by the early twentieth-century composer-pianist William Baines, and in the fluttering wings of the album’s other ‘Persian’ piece, Par- feshani-ye ‘eshq – suggests that Harrison may have come to imagine her own new fecundity of invention as itself the removal of an unfreedom.
A creative pause – even if it stems from a feeling of exhaustion, of having nothing left to say – may ultimately reveal itself as the prelude to a glorious new eloquence, just as sleep is not final but attains a natural (if also temporary) end as night gives way to dawn. As the Afghan example shows, too, a state of outward silence does not necessarily reflect the inner absence of the expressive impulse. The desire to express, its usual means thwarted, may seek new outlets. ‘When it got impossible to do graffiti on the walls of Kabul,’ writes the street artist Shamsia Hassani, whose artwork Dreaming Graffitiprovides that striking cover image, ‘I started taking photos of my favourite city walls and would paint my works on the photos.’ Harrison herself re-trained and worked as an archaeologist between 2006 and 2012, and there is a relevant comparison with Bartók’s silences of 1912–15 and 1941–2, periods in which he almost certainly believed he had given up professional composition for good in favour of ethnological work collecting and cataloguing folk music, but which we retrospectively interpret as interludes or ‘research’ for further creative work.
(Harrison’s affinity with Bartók runs deep, incidentally, and it is a particularly pleasing coincidence that two of the performers featured on this recording are grandpupils of Bartók, via his piano student György Sándor, while all four can trace a pedagogical lineage back – in two cases via Bartók, in the other two via Edwin Fischer – to Liszt.)
This album is the record of an awakening, but it also tells a story about learning to sleep well. The last of the three miniatures with which it ends – each perfectly matched to the specific musicality of its dedicatee – is marked by its resumption of the Luna title as another night-piece. It is peaceful but open-ended, non-final like sleep, and as it comes to rest we might call to mind the closing lines of John Fuller’s text for The
Crimson Bird, the vocal–orchestral scena by Harrison’s teacher Nicola LeFanu to which this closing piece pays homage:
When the night will in the end give way To the dawning reason of the day.
As the album ends, the world continues on. And we are in it – and, thanks to Sadie Harrison, a little more of it.
© 2017 John Fallas
Track listing:  Return of the Nightingales [2-7] Par-feshani-ye 'eshq: Six Pieces after Bidel [8-11] Lunae: Four Nocturnes [12-17] Shadows: Six Portraits of William Baines [18-21] Four Jazz Portraits  The Souls of Flowers  Northern Lights  Luna... for Nicola
Cover image: Birds of No Nation – Dreaming Graffiti © Shamsia Hassani (https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamsia_Hassani)
(3 Nov 2017)