Songs From Our Ancestors
Since it opened in January 2014, the Globe’s Sam Wanamaker Playhouse has hosted almost as much music as theatre, establishing itself as the concert space London never knew it was missing – intimate, atmospheric and acoustically both clear and warm. Now this unique venue has turned recording studio, establishing its own label, Globe Music, to celebrate the unusual musical encounters, collisions and collaborations the space promotes.
This debut release, ‘Songs From Our Ancestors’, sets the tone for the future. The album pairs tenor Ian Bostridge with guitarist Xuefei Yang, and while both emerge from the mainsteam classical tradition, the emphasis here is very much on East meets West, rubbing the music of Yang’s own Chinese culture up against Western art music and seeing the sparks it generates.
The programming is thoughtful – a chronological trip through musical history that pairs Dowland with his Chinese contemporaries before wandering through time to arrive at a cycle of newly commissioned songs by Welsh composer Stephen Goss, a conscious fusion of ancient Chinese texts and contemporary Western textures.
There’s a lot going on here, a lot for the ear to assimilate, but it’s a disc that really comes into focus with repeated listens. Goss’s The Book of Songs is a striking series of miniatures, written with clear understanding of Bostridge’s distinctive instrument. The voice croons in musical androgyny in ‘Oh, you with the blue collar’ and barks in broken speech-song fragments in ‘In the tavern’. The Schubert songs also work beautifully, the guitar accompaniments taking them from salon to somewhere altogether folkier, and only the Dowland sequence feels a little distended – a live performance that feels a bit over-worked for the intimacy of a recording.
Yang reinvents herself convincingly throughout the disc – now a troubadour, now a folk musician, now a concert-hall soloist. Her selections from Chinese repertoire are tantalising – hints of an alien musical world that, here, feels far closer than you’d imagine.