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A Tagore Evening

British Museum 3 November 2006


Naresh Sohal: Poems of Tagore No 3

Ravel: String Quartet

The Colours of the Tabla Sanju Sahai

Naresh Sohal: Three Songs from Gitanjali


Sally Silver soprano; Anthony Lewis cello; Sanju Sahai tabla; Medici String Quartet


Naresh Sohal, a composer with many BBC commissions behind him, lives in London. Over a period of almost forty-five years in this country, Sohal's music has taken various turns. He writes in the western idiom; there is often an Indian-ness about his music yet without it sounding anything like Indian classical music..


The combination of soprano and cello is a rare one. Poems of Tagore were originally written for Jane Manning and tonight's performer was the South African soprano, Sally Silver, a beautiful, and extremely musical coloratura soprano, sweet toned, and with plenty of power when required. In spite of a cold she sang with passion and joy. Silver made light of difficulties as she wove her vocal magic - the audience was soon captivated. She was accompanied by Anthony Lewis (the cellist of the Medici Quartet.)


Apart from applause between movements from the audience, not usual concert-goers, the Ravel String Quartet sounding refreshingly beautiful and was given a fine performance by this long-established Quartet. All the tempi were just right and the slow movement especially moving.


Sanju Sahai opened part two with two short tabla solos. He explained that in Indian classical music, tabla solos could last up to three hours! But what is so amazing is not that the western ear is able to comprehend the music of these drums that part is easy enough. But! And it is a very big but indeed, one can see what is happening one can hear what is happening but one simply cannot work out how it happens. Then there is the vocalising that has to be heard to be believed and once more, it is impossible to work out how he does it. There was an absolute rapt silence as Sahai performed smiling occasionally at his friend, Naresh Sohal (now sitting in the front row.)


The main work was the very beautiful Three Songs From Gitanjali (words by Tagore) sung in Bengali by Sally Silver with Sanju Sahai and the Medici String Quartet. Sally Silver has sung this piece with three string quartets now, the Medici being the newcomers. Her first two performances were with the Dante String Quartet (also with Sanju Sahai) and the Edinburgh String Quartet. This piece was written for Sally and was commissioned by the Spitalfields Festival of 2004 and repeated again last year. In this piece, as with the Viola Concerto and the Songs of the Five Rivers, the composer has shown us his great capacity for melodic line and rhythmic colour.


This music is all very listener-friendly and was well appreciated by some 200 people; it should be more widely heard. Silver sang magnificently and Sahai was extremely musical with his contribution, never exceeding his position as accompanist. The Medici gave the voice fine support and the whole evening was imbued with an almost sacred charm.


Dennis Day