by Simon Cummings, 28th November 2019
"...when it comes to sustained interest, no composer during my two-and-a-bit days at HCMF came remotely close to that achieved by Frank Denyer in the world première of his hour-long extravaganza The Fish that became the Sun (Songs of the Dispossessed). Completed a quarter of a century ago, to perform the work took the combined forces of Octandre Ensemble, Consortium5, the New London Chamber Choir, members of the RubyThroat ensemble, and percussion students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire, all jointly conducted by Holly Mathieson and Jon Hargreaves. Huddersfield's Town Hall has seen some impressive, colossal performances at HCMF over the years, but I'm not sure anything has rendered me so speechless, so overwhelmed and so enraptured as this piece. And I have to admit: anything I write about it will be wholly inadequate.
"I can't remember the last time a composition left me feeling so hopeful and so happy."
I was conscious of the fact that there were performers all over the stage, and possibly in the balconies too, but I realised within even the first ten seconds that keeping my eyes open – always a temptation in ambitious, visually unusual works like this – was going to be a complete distraction. So from my vantage point, I had no idea who was doing what, how they were doing it, where they were doing it, or indeed a lot of the time what instrument they were doing it on." (Cont'd right)
Photo: Graham Hardy
Photo: Graham Hardy
(5against4 Cont'd)"None of this mattered; if anything, it only made the experience yet more unfathomably wondrous. The piece seemed to have no clear geographical foundation: we might call it 'ethnically neutral', yet the way Denyer harnessed sound didn't so much suggest no place as all places, a universality that here and there glanced against familiarity within an altogether larger, unfamiliar context. Balancing this were two vitally important factors.
First, The Fish that became the Sun was wonderfully gentle; not always calm, and certainly not always quiet, but conveying an inner momentum that was rooted less in urgency than something in between nonchalance and serenity (but neither of those things). As such, it avoided all signs of ostentation yet never became austere. Second, while I've mentioned its unfathomable aspect, the work eschewed any and all notions of pseudo-spirituality and allusions to quasi-mystical hokum; it was instead grounded, earthy, human, honest, real. It spoke to me, sometimes it sang; I'm still trying to get my head around the meaning and the import of its content, but what I know for sure is that this work somehow made me feel connected, not only to it but to those around me – the players, the audience and the wider world – and made me appreciate in a new way how music can act as a profound force for unity. I can't remember the last time a composition like this left me feeling so hopeful and so happy."
'The performance is satisfying to the extent that I can’t imagine the work being carried off with greater clarity or force.'
Ben Harper, CD Review, Cookylamoo.com
(Click to read)
Avant Scena, All About Jazz, Cookylamoo
"'The Fish that became the Sun' received its world premiere and was hailed as a masterpiece."
John Eyles, Allaboutjazz.com
by Ivan Hewett, 24th November 2019
"Utterly different was The Fish that Became the Sun (Songs of the Dispossessed) by little known seventy-something British composer Frank Denyer. Huddersfield Town Hall was filled with an eye-catching menagerie of instruments; a quartet of wine glasses, medieval shawms, seven percussion groups, a sitar and a cimbalom, double-basses, choirs, and high up by the organ a solo violinist.
For an entrancing hour we heard wistful melodies, ceremonial chants, thundering percussive patterns, and at one point nursery rhymes from two children up in the gallery, all performed with devoted care by the Octandre Ensemble and numerous guest musicians. It was endlessly inventive, and touching in its naivety."
by Richard Morrison, 25th November, 2019
"Rarely have the wild echoes of Huddersfield Town Hall been set flying by such esoteric overtones.
Denyer's hour-long masterpiece doesn't just parade rare instruments. Starting with and frequently returning to the ravishing, multi-stopping cadenzas of a solo violinist (the superb Benjamin Marquise Gilmore) placed high above the stage, it had a gripping flow that was sometimes thunderously aggressive (as when percussionists positioned around the audience simultaneously delivered thumping broadsides), sometimes beguiling and often disturbing — not least when two children sang nursery refrains loaded with menace from the gallery.
I will be searching out the recording (Another Timbre) made by these excellent performers — the Octandre Ensemble directed by Christian Mason and Jon Hargreaves."