CD Review: Jonathan Dove’s In Damascus

First published in the Guardian on 8 June, 2017

Jonathan Dove: In Damascus etc
Sacconi Quartet/Padmore/Owen (Signum)

“My heart is a black lump of coal,” writes Syrian poet Ali Safar. “My heart is a full stop on a page.” This is an excerpt, translated by Anne-Marie McManus, of Safar’s A Black Cloud in a Leaden White Sky, or Death by Stabs of Sorrow, which details personal responses to the Syrian war and provides the text of Jonathan Dove’s In Damascus for tenor and string quartet. The beauty of the piece is its restraint. It doesn’t sensationalise, doesn’t get maudlin, doesn’t moralise or politicise. The words are direct and the music respects that. The performance does, too: clear, focused playing from the Sacconi Quartet and lucid, unswerving narrative from tenor Mark Padmore. The rest of the disc is lighter but always with that trademark Dove economy: the Sacconis sound relaxed and bubbly in the 2001 quartet Out of Time and pianist Charles Owen joins for the Piano Quintet, intense and light-filled.