Songs to the North Sky
If a symphony in essence is a composition arising from more than three movements, Songs to the North Sky by Tim Garland measures up, and by any definition this 15 track recording is a superlative opus which had me purring with pleasure.
Songs to the North Sky, one half of a double CD (Lighthouse), for classical strings (the Royal Northern Sinfonia Strings), jazz and classical percussion (Asaf Sirkis, John Patitucci, Neil Percy and Magdalena Filipczak), reflects a decade of association by Garland with north east England.
It is akin to a musical translation or adaptation of the legendary The Remains of Elmet by Ted Hughes and Fay Goodwin: from the profuse and bounteous The Road Into Night, you can decipher how Garland’s world is his own.
The poet Don Paterson, who in Landing Light writes as lyrically as Garland’s horn, supplies an effusive precis behind the genesis of Songs to the North Sky, citing a spiritual affinity in which Garland plunders from the inside.
And, undoubtedly, as noted elsewhere, both the superb Patitucci and the string ensemble shape themselves around Garland’s fluid and articulate reeds like an incoming tide under a full moon.
There is too an air of nostalgia, and after repeat revisiting of numbers like Dawnbreakers and Shapes Over Northumberland, I sensed a connection with Vaughan Williams’ pastoral The Lark Ascending, which I can only attribute to the achievement of Garland in capturing technical ingenuity with effusive spontaneity, without the honey coating.
While Williams had George Meredith’s poem as a primer, Garland’s Songs to the North Sky come from a reservoir skulking in his soul, but what a resource.
The finely intelligent breathers of the several interludes aside, Garland as a composer has the vision of a Coleridge or a Bronte and you will discover (Storm Over Kielder, Lullaby of the Road) how his saxophone gifts onomatopoeic representations of his landscape to the listener.
This is classical terrain. Occasionally music sounds different if it looks different – a strange idea – but Songs to the North Sky also work as the self portrait of an artist, with a superfluous cogency.