By George Hall
From The Guardian - Wednesday June 20, 2007
Mark-Anthony Turnage's new work About Water is a kind of a song-cycle comprising folk songs, spirituals and standards, intertwined with new tunes by Turnage and jazz singer Barb Jungr, and interspersed with instrumental interludes.
If its premiere with the London Sinfonietta under Stefan Asbury is anything to go by, 70 minutes is too long for the patchy material. The theme itself is pretty loose, a mention of rain or tears in the lyrics being scarcely enough to sustain a connection in some items. The result has less the feel of a work with a genuine structure than of a suite or an extended set.
The best part of the piece lies in Turnage's stylish instrumental writing, brilliantly realised by the Sinfonietta players. Long, liquid lines hover over an often urban musical landscape that gives them a sharp profile, with punchy rhythmic interjections and the odd explosion, like the one that jolts the attention near the close of the final song, Nick Drake's River Man. But sometimes Turnage's approach works to the material's disadvantage: the jumpy, percussive treatment of Otis Redding's Sitting on the Dock of the Bay robs it of its lazy charm.
A quartet of singers contributes further items, though their writing is the least effective. The jazz element is central to the piece, represented not only by Jungr's feisty vocals but also by a quintet of instrumentalists: saxophonists Martin Robertson and Mark Lockheart, pianist Gwilym Silcock, cellist Gabriella Swallow and bassist John Patitucci. But the two worlds do not always coincide, as in the best of Turnage's pieces, so much as collide.