Various Artists

Sea Images: The Best of David Fanshawe

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British composer David Fanshawe is best known for African Sanctus, his combination of the Latin Mass with African music he taped during field trips. But this album, which he describes as 36 years in the making, demonstrates that his work has ranged far beyond that. In fact, if anything, the 25 tracks, nine of them performed by the David Fanshawe Ensemble, plus one a piano solo by the composer, make a case for him as a quintessential booster of his native country. This impression begins with the title, Sea Images, a reference to the first three tracks and the closing one, orchestral pieces in which Fanshawe, in quite traditional terms, celebrates Lord Nelson's naval victory at Trafalgar in 1805 (the opening track, "Trafalgar," and the closing track, a vocal version of the same music), and a reflection on Fanshawe's native region, "Dover Castle." There is also "Lament of the Seas," a piece of program music meant to evoke the tragic South Asian tsunami of late 2004, but it too is a fairly traditional composition. The album's second section, "Arabian Fantasy" (tracks four-seven), drawn from Fanshawe's album of the same name, does boast Egyptian recordings and Middle Eastern instruments, but with the opening burst of wah-wah guitar in "Sirocco" and plenty of synthesizer programming, it also has a contemporary Western tilt. "Film & Television" (tracks eight-eighteen) brings things back home in a big way, as Fanshawe provides music for some typically British productions such as the TV series Flambards, creating a lot of Old English sounds that might be heard in a country pub. With that lengthy introduction, the African Sanctus material that takes up the "Choral" section (tracks 19-22) comes more as an aural surprise than as the culmination of Fanshawe's work, and even here, as the title suggests, choral work tends to predominate. The "Finale" (tracks 23 and 24) consists of a couple of anthemic pieces before Lord Nelson re-enters at the close. Thus, in this convincing summary of Fanshawe's career, he comes off not so much as the earnest ethnomusicologist that he is often said to be, but rather as an essentially British composer with something of a 19th century "Age of Imperialism" tone (even if he was born in 1942) whose perspective never really leaves Blighty, even when he's tramping the far-flung reaches of the Empire, tape recorder in hand.

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