Christine Tobin – Sailing to Byzantium
(Trail Belle Records TRB02. CD Review by Chris Parker)
This album of song settings of W. B. Yeats’s poetry is the result of a commission (the National Library of Ireland asked Christine Tobin to give a performance -– of four songs – as part of their Yeats ‘Summer’s Wreath’ celebrations in 2010), but such is the haunting beauty of the whole that it clearly fast became a labour of love.
Tobin herself recalls the effect ‘When You are Old’ had on her when, as a teenager, her first boyfriend read it to her – ‘the power and beauty of the words became infused with the passion of our own romance’ – and this intensely personal emotion infuses the whole project.
With her affectingly languorous, pure-toned voice and crystal-clear diction, Tobin might have been specially created to sing Yeats lines such as ‘But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you’, or ‘Two girls in silk kimonos, both/ Beautiful, one a gazelle’, and with her regular band (pianist Liam Noble, cellist Kate Shortt, guitarist Phil Robson and bassist Dave Whitford) augmented by flautist Gareth Lockrane and actor Gabriel Byrne, who reads three poems impeccably, she has produced an utterly convincing work of art, imbued with taste, refinement and grace, but also -– where required – considerable power.
Musical settings of pre-existing poems frequently sound somewhat contrived; Tobin’s great achievement is to make hers sound so natural and apt that one quickly forgets that the words and melodies were written separately, so absorbing are the resultant songs.