Monthly Archives: August 2013

Review: Pierre-Laurent Aimard

First published in The Herald on 27 August, 2013

Pierre-Laurent Aimard
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Gyorgy Ligeti dedicated several of his piano Etudes to Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the great French pianist whose interpretations of these wonderful pieces remain definitive. This solo Queen’s Hall recital was the last of his three concerts at the International Festival; together they brought home Aimard’s extraordinary breadth, diligence, fearless physical stamina and (above all) musical integrity. His playing can be technically ferocious and expressively flamboyant when the music demands it, but there’s nothing remotely showy in what he does: it’s always about the music, never about Aimard himself.

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Interview: Irvine Arditti on Conlon Nancarrow

nancarrow

First published in The Herald on 26 August, 2013

“His music is so utterly original, enjoyable, perfectly constructed but at the same time emotional… For me it’s the best of any composer living today.” High praise indeed coming from one Gyorgy Ligeti – but then it was Ligeti who first introduced the world to the weird and wonderful genius of Conlon Nancarrow.

Nancarrow (1912-1997) was a genuine one-off. He grew up in a leafy neighbourhood in Texarkana, Arkansas, a few blocks away from where Scott Joplin was born half a century earlier. As a kid he played trumpet in a local jazz band and started composing semi-formally around the age of 15; eventually he studied music in Boston where he met Schoenberg (whose music he did not like) and joined the communist party. He fought against Franco in the Spanish civil war, returned to New York to compose full-time but soon fled to Mexico to avoid anticommunist harassment by the US authorities. He ended up staying in Mexico City until he died.

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Review: Dido and Aeneas and Bluebeard’s Castle

First published in the Guardian on 26 August, 2013

Dido and Aeneas/Bluebeard’s Castle
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

These operas don’t normally go together. Their tragic heroines sing music composed more than 200 years apart. One is festooned in pretty pink, paralysed by claustrophobia and love sickness; the other wears glossy black and paces an open stage in pursuit of dark truths. In his courageous and fascinating pairing of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Bartok’s Bluebeard Castle, director Barrie Kosky inverts our expectations, doesn’t force parallels and treats the power dynamics of the central couples with an unusually even hand so that we’re left pondering the murky nature of victimhood. Frankfurt Opera’s stylish production has its flaws, but overall succeeds in exactly the way that a double-bill should: it makes sense of each half and shines new light on both.

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Review: Christophe Rousset

First published in The Herald on 26 August, 2013

Christophe Rousset
St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh

“I promise not to break the harpsichord,” Christophe Rousset said with a twinkle in his eye as he sat down to play the first of two encores. The instrument in question was a certain Taskin 1769 – the prize of Edinburgh University’s Russell Collection and arguably the most famous harpsichord in the world. Rousset called it ‘mythical’, though that didn’t stop him from hammering out a show-piece by Pancrace Royer (contemporary of Rameau) called Vertigo, a bit like a double-time French baroque version of Chopsticks. There’s something impish about Rousset. Surrounded by so many special keyboard instruments he was every bit the connoisseur, of course, but also like a kid in a sweetie shop. You got the impression he’d have played all night if they’d let him.

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Review: Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt

First published in The Herald on 23 August, 2013

Bostridge/Vogt
Usher Hall, Edinburgh

It was worth coming to this concert if only to hear Schumann’s beautiful but rarely performed Kernerlieder. These 12 delicate songs from 1840 don’t really form a cycle in the same way that Dichterliebe and Frauenliebe und -leben do, but as a set they can cast a heart-rending spell and they showed the best of Ian Bostridge in what was generally a pretty mixed recital.

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Review: Christophe Rousset

First published in The Herald on 23 August, 2013

Christophe Rousset
St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh

As in the brilliant ensemble concert he gave at the Queen’s Hall on Wednesday, the first of two solo recitals by French harpsichordist Christophe Rousset was as much about the instruments he played – lovely rarities from the University of Edinburgh’s Russell Collection – as it was about himself and the music. And whereas the Queen’s Hall lacked the intimacy needed to hear the subtlest details of the Goermans/Taskin harpsichord, the sweet oval acoustic of St Cecilia’s was exactly the right setting.

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Review: Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Marco Stroppa and Samuel Favre

First published in The Herald on 23 August, 2013

Aimard/Stroppa/Favre
The Hub, Edinburgh

Only in Edinburgh. The second of Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s spellbinding late-night concerts turned out a tad later than planned thanks to an almighty round of fireworks up the road at the Tattoo then an ensuing pipe band marching its way directly past The Hub. International Festival organisers sagely realised that even the clanging palette of pitch and pulse in Stockhausen’s Kontakte might struggle to compete, so added an impromptu long interval during which most of the audience decamped to the street to watch the parade. What Stockhausen would have made of one of his landmark works being waylaid by fireworks and military bands who can say; I suspect he’d have been tickled by the grandeur.

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Review: Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques

First published in the Guardian on 23 August, 2013

Christophe Rousset/Les Talens Lyriques
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Built by two of the great French harpsichord makers of the 18th century, the beautiful 1764 Goermans/Taskin is one of the most important keyboard instruments in the world and a rare beast to witness in action. It’s usually kept under close surveillance in the University of Edinburgh’s illustrious historic instrument collection, but was granted day-release for this ravishing all-Couperin concert by French harpsichordist Christophe Rousset and members of his period instrument ensemble, Les Talens Lyriques.

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Interview: Pierre-Laurent Aimard

First published in The Herald on 22 August, 2013

French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard is one of the great musical polyglots of our age, equally eloquent in music from Bach to Debussy, Ligeti to Messiaen and Marco Stroppa. He plays three concerts at the Edinburgh International Festival, and talked to Kate Molleson about staging, piano sounds and why it’s important to speak plenty of musical languages. 

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Interview: Ian Bostridge

Ian+Bostridge

First published in The Herald on 21 August, 2013

Ian Bostridge tends to provoke strong reactions either way. The English tenor’s voice is like none other: some find it luminous, agile, haunting, ethereal; for others it’s too wan, too mannered, too boyish and ‘churchy’. His delivery is acutely (some might say garishly) dramatic, and likewise inspires mixed responses. Personally I find his voice beautiful, given it’s applied to the right repertoire, but it’s his way with words – a combination of intellectual dexterity and explicit emotional involvement – that, for me, makes him a truly enthralling performer.

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