Lisa Gerrard was originally part of the ground-breaking Dead Can Dance and, more recently, has gained a considerable reputation as a composer of soundtrack music, having done blockbuster movie Gladiator and Whale Rider (why someone didn’t sign her up for The Lord Of The Rings trilogy is a mystery). Which may explain why this album, recorded in collaboration with Irish classical composer Patrick Cassidy, has a certain cinematic quality; indeed, it is subtitled “Film Music”.
Not that any of these pieces (to call them songs would somehow be to diminish their remarkable construction and often epic sweep) were written with particular films in mind, except for Elegy, a leftover from Gerrard’s Gladiator score. Rather, they are in the tradition of what the Romantic composers would have called “tone poems”, conjuring up images in the mind rather than on the silver screen.
As with the best of her work with Dead Can Dance, Gerrard draws on a rich variety of music and, by employing the languages of Gaelic, Latin and Aramaic, endows the music with an other-worldly, almost dream-like quality. There is also a strong spiritual dimension to the pieces, not just in the literal use of The Lord’s Prayer on Abwoon, for instance, but in the sense of stillness and space on tracks such as Epic and Sailing To Byzantium, which draws on the WB Yeats poem of the same name.
Cassidy’s contribution is also considerable, his high-register rendition of The Lord’s Prayer on Abwoon, in Christ’s own tongue, Aramaic, is especially powerful, as is his own composition, Psallit In Aure Dei, that closes the album.
Admirers of the Clannad / Enya school of breathy, ethereal Celtic pop may find a tangential connection to Immortal Memory but, in truth, that’s rather like comparing Andrew Lloyd Webber with Mozart or Blue with The Beatles. This is music that effortlessly transcends musical boundaries, occupying a cultural hinterland that is neither sacred music or pop but a rather strange and beautiful hybrid of the two.
Although in the richness of the musical tapestries she now weaves, Gerrard has moved far beyond the Gothic visions and sensibility of the early Dead Can Dance recordings, there is still something dark, dense and slightly imposing about the music on this album. Beautiful, beguiling and entrancing, this is soul music in the strictest, truest sense of the term.