The Sinking of the Titanic
Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet
Music for 18 Musicians
Members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra
Micaela Haslam [Titanic]
Reviewed by: Amanda-Jane Doran
Reviewed: 15 March, 2017
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
The Belief & Beyond Belief series continued in imaginative and virtuosic fashion, transportingly so through Gavin Bryars’s meditative and elegiac soundworlds, then invigorating and thrilling in Steve Reich’s monumental Music for 18 Musicians.
The starting point for Bryars’s The Sinking of the Titanic was the band carrying on playing as the liner disappeared beneath the waves. He amassed evidence about the music from reports from survivors, an Episcopal hymn. In his piece he layers live music with recorded speech and extraordinary percussive effects of an ocean vessel and sonic ambience. Bryars describes it as a series of metaphors, researched and imaginary, combining human experience and the elements of water, ice and impact. Woodblocks mimic Morse code and music-boxes provide haunting echoes of past relationships. The performance was deeply moving, the London Philharmonic totally engaged under the direction of Micaela Haslam.
Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet uses a recorded scrap of singing by a homeless man as the basis for a simple yet profound meditation on life, death, hope, faith and sacrifice. The vocals were so sensitively engineered by Sound Intermedia that the voice floated from offstage and gradually increased in volume as the LPO strings (led by Vesselin Gellev) and horns supported the fragile hymnal with restrained lilting crescendos and diminuendos.
Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians expanded with glorious clarity with élan and commitment aw we taken on a breathtaking journey of pulses and patterns. The precision and rhythmic security of marimba and xylophone underpinned by piano was mesmerising, and the combination of Synergy Vocals and bass clarinet added a contrasting element. This hour-long exploration of an eleven-chord sequence was again implicitly controlled by Gellev, a fantastic feat, only bettered by the magical metallophone centre-stage whose mercurial phrases pointed the way ahead.