31 OCTOBER 1998, Page 56

A bold pairing

To Southwark Cathedral where Chaucer, Shakespeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger, Goldsmith and Bun- yan are all commemorated. A fairly literary spot then, but chosen in this case for a tern- Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco, by Day Bowman, in Southwark Cathedral porary installation (until 7 November) fea- turing music and painting. A series of six vertical canvases hangs in the cathedral's north transept, accompanied for the dura- tion of the Southwark Festival by a tape loop of music by Jonathan Harvey. The overall title, Mortuos Plango, Vivos Vico, meaning 'I lament the dead, I call the liv- ing', comes from the inscription on the large bell in Winchester Cathedral. But the music consists of four sections: the epony- mous piece, followed by Come Holy Ghost and Flight Elegy, and then Transitions 1-3 which were written specifically in response to Bowman's paintings. The installation is thus not so much a collaboration, but a response and counter-response, in itself almost a musical structure.

Bowman states that flight was her start- ing point — the soaring of voice, of dove as Holy Spirit, and of violin in the elegy to Peter Gibbs (violinist and pilot who crashed in mysterious circumstances). The half-dozen paintings on unstretched canvas are suspended just above head-height at intervals from the roof, stiffish frontal drops, painted on one side only. Some partly obscure others like leaves on a tree, and form a perspectival recession in the space of the transept. Their principal theme appears to be landscape, rendered in a briskly gestural abstract expressionist manner, the paint spattered and dashed on, in some places quite heavily impasted, in others subtly layered.

There's a lambent quality to the imagery, conjuring equally mountains, water, flame and the flow of seasons. They are both dark and bright (reflected light, cast shad- ows), a glimmering glade amid the biscuity stone and grey-green columns of the cathe- dral, in visual competition with a quartet of stained glass saints above. The paintings hold their own: gutsy and evocative, they are virtuoso self-portraits, inviting the view- er's speculation. With the swooping plan- gent music, a bold and effective pairing.

A.L. To hear the Great Tenor Bell of Winchester Cathedral, a sound which rang through my childhood and school days, amplified and restructured in the workshop of Boulez's IRCAM in Paris as part of Jonathan Harvey's Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco, made me nostalgic and receptive all in one. That this sound should come to me while contemplating the paintings/banners of Day Bowman in a transept of Southwark Cathedral added further perspective to the experience. Quite separately from the bells of Winchester, I have admired Harvey's music since singing it in that city. He has always written with sensitivity for choirs, most often for that of Winchester which is fea- tured here; and with a feeling for liturgies. The four pieces represented at Southwark have a ritualistic element, especially the second which is based on the Veni Creator Spiritus plainsong in its Anglican form, an element which the electronic effects of IRCAM heighten. By the repetition and representation of the essential sounds, and by guarding a sense of tonality, the music seems constantly to be folding back on itself.

This catches something in Bowman's paintings, which in their backgrounds maintain a balanced and consistent palette. However, perhaps it is in their foregrounds that the mood of Harvey's work is so well matched, encapsulated in the idea of fire (of the Holy Spirit as it descended at Pen- tecost) and the flame of the free spirit (the `Vivos' in the title of the first piece). Har- vey's vitalised sounds flash and flow over the solidity of the bell, just as Bowman's more dramatic colours leap off her back- ground tones.

This much may be fairly easily perceived: the finer connections of imagination and interpretation must be left to the Individual.