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Classical home listening: Shiva Feshareki, Helen Charlston and more

The British-Iranian composer, artist and turntablist Shiva Feshareki is at home in many musical disciplines, embracing every variety of technology and harnessing it, with restless invention, to her own extensive classical training. Her new album Turning World (NMC) features her Aetherworld (2021), recorded live at last year’s BBC Proms. With Feshareki on turntables and electronics, Kit Downes (organ), the BBC Singers and conductor Sofi Jeannin, Aetherworld uses natural harmonics and harmonic overtones to mysterious, hypnotic effect.

The title refers to the “fifth element in alchemical chemistry and early physics”, held to be a key to existence by medieval alchemists and others. Whether you follow all this or not, the sounds are beautiful and bewitching.

The other work on this album is Still Point (1948-9), by the electronics pioneer Daphne Oram. Thought lost but now realised by Feshareki and James Bulley with the London Contemporary Orchestra (conductor Robert Ames), this haunting work at first sounds decidedly melodic and tonal, but Oram’s experimental use of orchestra, live electronics and turntables (Feshareki has composed the turntable part following Oram’s original, handwritten instructions) hints at the direction she was heading: in 1958, she co-founded the renowned BBC Radiophonic Workshop. British electronic music found a voice.

Helen Charlston and Toby Carr recording Battle Cry: She Speaks.
Helen Charlston and Toby Carr recording Battle Cry: She Speaks. Photograph: Foxbrush

Mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston’s Battle Cry: She Speaks (Delphian), with theorbo player Toby Carr, combines music of the 17th century with a new song cycle by Owain Park. The recital, opening with Henry Purcell’s “O lead me to some peaceful gloom” and featuring works by Barbara Strozzi, Giovanni Kapsberger, Monteverdi and others, challenges the old platitude of the abandoned, hapless woman. Think Dido, Ariadne, Boudicca.

Charlston’s take – to say argument would give the wrong impression; there is no rant, here – is that in their abandonment they also find strength. Several of the songs, such as Strozzi’s L’Eraclito amoroso and La Travagliata, have their own internal drama. Carr’s theorbo playing is sensuous and vivid, and works especially well in the sonic explorations of the four songs by Park. Charlston’s distinctive, expressive lower register, and the clarity of every word, contribute to an outstanding disc.

Sticky Notes: The Classical Music Podcast

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