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Orchestra of the Swan, Daniele Rosina (conductor) Detailed performer information
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Label: Signum Classics
Recording details: April 2021
Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden, Essex, United Kingdom
Produced by Toby Young
Engineered by Mike Hatch
Release date: November 2021
Total duration: 70 minutes 7 seconds

A collection of works connected by ideas of pilgrimage, contemplation, exploration and enlightenment through the works of composers such as Richter, Respighi, Britten, Piazzolla, Brian Eno, Nico Muhly, Joy Division and more.

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Orchestra of the Swan’s last album Timelapse was recorded in January 2020 on the cusp of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns; Labyrinths, by contrast, was conceived and recorded at a moment when we could finally see some light at the end of the tunnel.

This album is a collection of extraordinary works connected by ideas of pilgrimage, contemplation, exploration and enlightenment. As with Timelapse, the joy is to be found in discovering the surprising and delightful connections between culturally disparate and musically contrasting time periods. Themes of isolation, distance and a longing for human connection are filtered through beautifully atmospheric and exquisitely rendered sound worlds.

Labyrinths have been an important part of humanity’s cultural landscape for thousands of years; from the Ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur to the intriguing stories of Jorge Luis Borges and Umberto Eco. Our overwhelming desire to find patterns and ‘the hidden truth’ is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the subversive and complex vistas of music.

This new recording also reflects the brave new world of online streaming and joyfully embraces the idea of ‘the playlist’ or ‘mixtape’ whilst challenging the 21st-century listener to take time out to listen to the whole album in sequence, as originally intended. Statistics show that during 2020 we enthusiastically reconnected with recorded music in the digital sphere and rediscovered the art of concentrated and attentive listening.

This last year has been one in which we have all been confronted by the spectre of isolation and have keenly felt the need for face-to-face communication. Labyrinths invites the listener to immerse themselves completely in a sonically rewarding and wholly unexpected musical experience.

On the nature of daylight (Max Richter)
Richter’s haunting meditation on the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq skillfully unveils slowly rotating string lines that build towards an overwhelming emotional apex. Never straying into the realms of hysteria or giving way to the saccharine, this powerful yet deceptively simple work creates a significant and affecting musical moment that gets under the skin and remains there.

La colomba (Ottorino Respighi)
In ‘La colomba’ (‘The dove’) from his Gli uccelli (The birds) suite Respighi transforms a lute work by Jaques de Gallot (1625 -1695) into a rich and dramatic orchestral landscape. The melody, faithfully transcribed and gracefully executed by the oboe, is enveloped by an extraordinary canopy of twittering violins and a forest of lush orchestration.

La rotta (Anonymous, arr. David Le Page)
This scintillating reworking of the 14th-century Italian tune La rotta (Route or Path) straddles the worlds of pre-baroque art music and the gritty sounds of backstreet troubadours. The darbuka hints at a strong North African influence which is reflective of Italy’s geographic position at the south of Europe and the centre of the Mediterranean Sea.

Klage Lied (Dieterich Buxtehude, arr. David Gordon)
A juxtaposition of centuries is explored through jazz pianist and composer David Gordon’s reworking of Buxtehude’s cantata Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin, BuxWV76. The beauty of the original is supplemented by a contemporary sensibility which, although deeply respectful, revels in the joy of the unexpected.

Cold Genius (Henry Purcell)
The music of Purcell’s 'Cold Genius' aria from his opera King Arthur is reimagined here by English folk singer, composer and producer Jim Moray. Through icily rhythmic stalactite strings and Purcell’s unexpected harmonic twists and turns, the 17th and 21st centuries collide in a collaboration across time.

A prayer (David Le Page)
Although this piece was written in 2013 the meaning of it only fell into place during the lockdowns of 2020 at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic. It became clear to me that the simple, hymn-like structure and semi-improvised solo violin lines were akin to a benediction or the kind of prayer of thanksgiving that occurs at the end of an ordeal, when peace is once again restored.

Dog and frog (Nico Muhly)
Dog and frog is taken from the 2016 album Confessions, a collaboration between American composer Nico Muhly and Faroese singer Teiter. The recording alternates between highly personal, stream of consciousness songs and instrumental pieces, scored for a 21st-century baroque orchestra.

William of Barbary (Anonymous, arr. Jim Moray)
William of Barbary is Jim Moray’s version of Child Ballad 100, sometimes known as Willie O Winsbury or Tom the Barber. The song is a traditional Scottish ballad which dates from around 1775. It appeared on Moray’s 2016 album Upcetera. In the sleeve notes he writes: 'As sung to Cecil Sharp on 2 January 1906 by Mr Gordge of Somerset, who confusingly called it Tom the Barber, despite the name Tom not featuring anywhere in the song. I learned this from Steve Turner’s recording on his album Eclogue, where he called it Lord Thomas of Winesbury ”.

Comptine d'un autre été, l'après-midi (Yann Tiersen, arr. David Le Page)
French composer and multi-instrumentalist Yann Tiersen wrote this short piece for the 2001 film Amélie. Although it remains his most well-known work in many respects, it is not representative of his general output. In a 2020 interview he said: 'When I do simple melodies, there is something really dark behind it, or a sense of humour. And then suddenly because of the success of this movie, I had all these people playing my music as this romantic music or going on a date or whatever, but it was something else, something darker. It’s not fair to them, actually.'

Oblivion (Ástor Piazzolla, arr. Eduardo Garcia)
Oblivion was composed in 1983 as part of the soundtrack to the film Enrico IV, directed by Marco Bellocchio. The music has a potent simplicity, an unswerving emotional gaze, and the most perfectly judged sense of pathos. This was the man who created Nuevo Tango at the height of his powers.

New dawn fades (Joy Division, arr. David Le Page)
New dawn fades appears on Joy Division’s 1979 debut album Unknown Pleasures. This arrangement attempts to encapsulate, using a sparse orchestral pallet of strings and percussion, the intensity and emotional rawness which makes the original an almost unbearable listen.

Bounce (Trish Clowes)
English saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes adroitly navigates the line between jazz improvisation and contemporary classical composition. Bounce explores the joyful interplay between saxophone and strings, trading skittering riffs and quicksilver dialogue with soaring violin melodies underpinned by an incisive bass.

Pastoral (Benjamin Britten)
Britten’s masterful setting of a poem by Charles Cotton (1630-1687) is taken from his Serenade for tenor, horn and strings. Composed during the Second World War the work features the words of six British poets on the theme of night. This Pastorale conjures the lengthening shadows and surreal transformations that occur on the cusp of darkness and perfectly captures the feeling of satisfaction and acceptance that comes at the close of day.

See Emily play (Pink Floyd, arr. David Le Page)
Psychedelic visionary Syd Barrett was the impetus behind the first incarnation of Pink Floyd. His unique musical and lyrical imagination is evident on their first two albums, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets. See Emily play bridged the gap between art music and pop single and is based on the story of Barrett, mid-trip, finding a girl asleep in the woods. The girl in question was the sculptor Emily Young.

Farewell to Stromness (Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, arr. Rosemary Furniss)
Peter Maxwell Davies’ stark and simple Farewell to Stromness was written as a protest against the proposed construction of a uranium mine on the Orkney Islands where he lived. The title of the piece refers to the town of Stromness. Davies noted in an interview: 'My little piano piece Farewell to Stromness has almost become a folk tune. People just say, ‘I like that piece,’ and they don’t know who wrote it. And that’s very unusual, for a so-called serious composer, to write a piece that people like so much, and they don’t care who it’s by.'

An ending (Ascent) (Brian Eno, arr. David Le Page)
An ending (Ascent) appeared on Brian Eno’s ninth studio album Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks but was originally recorded in 1983 for the feature-length documentary For All Mankind. This arrangement for solo violin, harp and strings seeks to capture the sense of wonder and detachment inherent in the synth/vocal sounds as well as the generative nature of the overlapping chords and overall impression of tender hesitation.

David Le Page © 2021

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