AMN Reviews: Simon Vincent – Stations of the Cross (Vision of Sound)

As a symbolic reenactment of the Via Dolorosa – Christ´s tortuous route to the cross and his “passion, death, resurrection and glorification,” according to Catholic catechism – stations of the cross likely began to appear throughout Christendom in the fifteenth century. As ritual performance art for the faithful without priestly interdiction, the stations demand active physical and mental engagement from participants – prayer, reflection, walking to the next station.

In composing Stations of the Cross, British composer and pianist Simon Vincent was inspired equally by his own visit to Jerusalem in 2015 and the installation Forest Stations by William Fairbank, displayed in Lincoln Cathedral and featured on the cover of this release. Prologued by an earlier piece, “Meditations on Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane”, which perfectly dovetails with the sixteen newly-written, brief movements of Vincent´s quietly powerful suite, the silence within is as deliberate and essential as the chords, which while agile as jazz are few and far apart, at times separated by absolute prairies of silence. Sometimes Vincent´s fingertips seem to only hover above the keys, brushing over rose petals or pricked by thorns. Sometimes the silence will be broken dramatically, even dissonantly. Regardless, each time there is ample opportunity for contemplation as they tone away.

Inspired by one work of visual art, perhaps Vincent´s Stations of the Cross comport even more resonantly with another, Barnett Newman´s stark, human-size paintings of the same name. For Newman, a non-observant Jew, the stations are not so much a palpable representation of the Paschal account but rather attest to the human condition in general – “Lema sabachtani – why did you forsake me?” – the question without answer, each and every man and woman´s agony, “the agony that is single, constant, unrelenting, [and] willed,” as he wrote in the accompanying catalogue. This fate connects us all, something which Vincent refers to in his liner notes: “It is intended that the work opens up reflection upon and discussion of the image of a sole human figure weighed down with burden, an image which for me raises issues of the relationship of the individual to a society and a state which are not only capable of looking away but also of allowing suffering, themes of truly vital relevance to us today.”

A piece for piano both intellectually open-ended and emotionally stimulating.

Stephen Fruitman

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