Tonic Fold deliver the future of classical crossover with 'The Violent Language of Portraits'
Classical crossover is a minefield. Despite widespread commercial success, it generally eludes critics – but why, exactly?
No one winces at any Rock act going for an ornamental classical twist (well, unless you’re the Sex Pistols). In fact, when a Rock band / Pop artist decide that they want to hire a big philharmonic to fill out their songs, they end up looking cooler. More cerebral. More artistic. Yet when an artist’s core is Classical and they foray into different genres, the perception tends to be quite different. Tonic Fold is one such case. The 30 piece experimental orchestra led by young composer Shane Cullinan refuses to place itself squarely in the classical world, and their album ‘The Violent Language of Portraits’ is a multifaceted work of staggering ambition. It’s Pop, it’s Rock, it’s Spoken Word, it’s theatrical, it’s Classical music crossing over to so many different directions that it’s dizzying. For starters, Cullinan has managed to pull in a very diverse and impressive roster of collaborators for this project, from actor Chris New, to Rachel Tucker (who played Elphaba in the West End production Wicked), to soul singer David Mc Almont, and, rather unexpectedly, Kathy Burke. Each lends their own talent to one of the 9 tracks, or “portraits”, with very different results. David McAlmont, one of the more widely recognised voices on the album, pays a beautiful tribute to the late war correspondent Marie Colvin. Poignant and heartfelt, its singing violins feel vaguely reminiscent of the Beatles’ ‘The Long and Winding Road’. ‘Northern Lights’, featuring Gavin Conder, is another highlight, a fast pacing number filled with tension, a crescendo from the first note to the last. Cullinan has a background in musical theatre, as do some of his guest vocalists, and that seeps into the entire album – perhaps the unifying factor between these tracks is that they feel very cinematic, and could easily have been intended for a film score. Comparisons to Michael Nyman and Philip Glass come to mind. While it’s the intense quality of some of the tracks that really stands out, at other times it can feel slightly overdone. Yet, the track that has everyone doing a double take is undoubtedly ‘Skin’ featuring Kathy Burke. A very moving spoken word piece, and the first collaboration of this kind for the treasured actress, ‘Skin’ tells the tale of a woman torn apart by grief at the sudden disappearance of her lover. Kathy Burke lends her dramatic delivery to Cullinan’s beautiful orchestrations to explosive effect. The pathos is devastating, and unexpected in the widely recognised voice of the teenage slob Perry – and yet somehow it really works. A very complex work of undeniable ambition, ‘The Violent Language of Portraits’ may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but is a worthy musical exploration layered with palpable passion. Release date: June 2 Cayos Music