Sadie Harrison-Solos and Duos (Toccata Classics TOCC0304) Reviews

Posted on October 22nd, 2015 by

With Sadie Harrison. The Premiere of 'Gallery' Wilton's Music Hall. 2013

With Sadie Harrison. The Premiere of ‘Gallery’ Wilton’s Music Hall. 2013

Sadie Harrison-Solos and Duos  TOCCATA 0304 (72:15)

Gallery….1 ballare una passacaglia di ombre … .1 Hidden Ceremonies I.2 3 Dances for Diana Nemorensis….3 under the circle of the moon … (Mansions I-VII)4 • 1, 4Peter Sheppard Skaerved, 4Mihailo Trandafilovski (vn); 2Roderick Chadwick (pn); 3Diana Mathews (va) • TOCCATA 0304 (72:15)



Fanfare – Jan/Feb 2016

This is not the first disc of music by Australian-born, UK-residing composer Sadie Harrison I have reviewed here: Back in 2007 I wrote on An Unexpected Light (NMC records, Fanfare 31:2). It is a pleasure to welcome the present disc, this time on the enterprising Toccata label.

With regard to her piece Gallery, Harrison describes her fascination with miniature paintings, particularly those housed in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. A piece made up of micro-movements, Gallery (Rooms 1 and 2), of 2012–13, marked Harrison’s return to composition after a period out to engage in archaeology (specifically, the designs on Bronze Age pottery from the Carpathian Basin). There is an intriguing double aspect to this composition, in that Harrison used the present violinist’s paintings as starting points for her works. Harrison is a strict self-disciplinarian, and she rigorously wrote a piece a day.

Some of Peter Sheppard Skaerved’s paintings are reproduced in the accompanying booklet (there are more at; as when one walks around a gallery and savors the art sometimes in random fashion, so can the performer here choose his or her own order. What is most powerful here is Sheppard Skaerved’s sense of lyricism. Even in the more playful pieces (the fourth movement “Measure for Measure,” for example), it is this element that is most powerful. The close recording adds an extra layer of involvement, particularly in the abrasive final piece of Room I, “It rubs off.” There’s a lovely idea in the second set, as Harrison pens a piece entitled, “Practising Sadie Harrison.” Again, the playful side act as a foil for the prevailing lyricism, a lyricism that is directed very much inwards for “Lachrymae (Tennessee) after Cotton Eye Joe,” wherein Sheppard Skaerved’s bow control is little short of miraculous; his technique is once more tested in “Stormfactory,” while the glassy harmonics of “Cymbline’s Fort” invoke a supernatural stillness.

There are myriad influences, artfully woven together, for Harrison’s … ballare una passacaglia di ombre … of 2011. A Biber project by Sheppard Skaerved rubs shoulders with Danish fairy tales by the violinist’s wife, a mosaic by Sosos of Pergamon, two fragmentary Delphic hymns from 138 BC and Biber’s Sonata No. 16. It lasts less than four minutes, but occupies a very special, fragile space.

The Hidden Ceremonies I piece is subtitled, “nine fragments after paintings by Brian Graham” and is a 2013 work for solo piano lasting around 11 minutes. One of Graham’s inspirations is archaeology. Harrison calls the fragments, “quiet contemplations of the scarred landscape and the conjurings of dark spells and ancient ritual acts.” The stasis, the gestures that seem to work from bass up all speak of an ancient, buried past ripe for reworkings; all this while reflecting the energy of Graham’s paintings. Roderick Chadwick is an excellent interpreter (he recorded Stockhausen’s Mantra for Hathut). Each movement begins with the word “after,” emphasizing the interiorization by Harrison of Graham’s expression. The stumbling, somewhat post-Stravinskian gait of the final “after Antler Music” comes as something of a surprise. Perhaps the recording of the piano could have accorded a little more depth to the instrument. (This is the only piece not to have been recorded at St. John the Baptist Aldbury; instead it was taken down in St. Michaels, Highgate in London.)

Diana Mathews is a superb violist, her sound magnificently warm. Harrison’s Three Dances for Diana Nemorensis (2013) takes its title from a three-“headed” Goddess structure Diana-Selene-Hekate. Perhaps the number three is emphasized by Hekate’s designation of Hekate Trevia, or Hekate of the three ways (in the UK there has been an explosion of interest in this liminal Goddess over the past few years). Harrison takes as her starting point a coin from 43 BC, however, which shows the three Goddesses. The piece is magnificently mysterious, particularly the final movement, “Selene” (a moon Goddess).

Finally, there comes … under the circle of the moon … (Mansions I-VII) for two violins of 2004. There are 28 “mansions of the moon,” and each of Harrison’s seven movements is based on the number 28. Inspiration came from Dürer, the Thousand Songs of Thebes and tourmaline (the gemstone), among others. The theological/mystic ideas explored are too numerous to be listed here, but the end result is that the music speaks directly to the heart, nowhere more so than in the intertwining lines of “The Thousand Songs of Thebes,” an evocation of Osiris. The references to earlier musics, in “Albrecht Dürer Self-Portrait 1500 AD – The Frankfurt Zoll” sound perfectly natural, as does the command of the performers, particularly in the terrifyingly high, quiet lines. This movement seems to be one of Harrison’s most impressive achievements; it glows in this interpretation. The grating sounds of “Tourmaline” which follows could hardly be more different, 40 seconds that lead to the strong but less abrasive final “The Curse with Turtledoves.” Here, the violin parts are labeled “Her” and “Him” and are motivically independent of each other.

There are two sets of booklet notes here, one by the composer and one by Sheppard Skaerved. The violinist’s view on Harrison’s responses to his art is fascinating—but, importantly, not as fascinating as the music itself. Colin Clarke

This article originally appeared in Issue 39:3 (Jan/Feb 2016) of Fanfare Magazine.


BBC Music Magazine-December 2015

‘This collection of works by Sadie Harrison is a vivid exploration of the miniature. No single movement exceeds four minutes and the shortest is just 24 seconds, yet these five magnetic works explore content and form with a dazzling intensity. Many of the compositions are exphrastic in nature: ‘Hidden Ceremonies’ ‘fragments’ in sound the huge canvasses of contemporary artist Brian Graham in nine arresting movements for solo piano; while ‘Gallery’ is by turns meditative and skittish, exploring the paintings and drawings of artist and violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved who also performs the work (and writes the disc’s engaging liner notes). The collection closely reflects the composer’s interest in antiquity (Harrison is also an archaeologist) with further works for solo violin and viola inspired by Greco-Roman culture, including the ‘Three Dances for Diana Nemorensis’ performed with great spirit (and virtuoso foot stamping)  by Diana Mathews. / The disc ends with the mesmerising ‘Under the Circle of the Moon’ for violin duo. Its seven short movements take as their prompt sources ranging fomr Durer to gemstones to human skin to Hindu cosmology, and are performed with tremendous artistry by Sheppard Skaerved joined by Mihailo Trandafilovski, bringing this beautiful and intriguing disc to a powerful close.’ (Kate Wakeling) BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE DECEMBER 2015


With Sadie Harrison. The Premiere of 'Gallery' Wilton's Music Hall. 2013

With Sadie Harrison. The Premiere of ‘Gallery’ Wilton’s Music Hall. 2013