Monthly Archives: July 2015

Review: Rysanov/Wass/Brentanos at East Neuk 2015

First published in The Herald on 6 July, 2015

Maxim Rysanov is a magnetic musician, and the kind of muscular, full-throttle viola player who can make an innately mellow instrument roar. It’s not all fire and machismo — his legato lines are golden, his quiet sound is gorgeously warm — but nothing in the Ukrainian’s performances happens by halves and nothing is shy. The first of two East Neuk Festival appearances found him in duo with Ashley Wass, an English pianist with a cool and chiselled touch. The pairing really worked.

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Review: Brentano Quartet at East Neuk 2015

First published in The Herald on 6 July, 2015

It feels a bit churlish to complain when a sound is too beautiful, too consistent, too polished. Classical musicians spend decades honing techniques to achieve exactly these qualities, then we turn around and demand something rough, uneven, unpredictable, plain ugly? Well yes, sometimes. Or rather, it’s the music that makes the demands.

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CD review: Alvin Lucier’s Broken Line

First published in the Guardian on 3 July, 2015

Alvin Lucier: Broken Line
Trio Nexus (mode)

The notion of recording Alvin Lucier’s music is an odd one. Lucier — veteran American experimentalist, doyen of sonic trickery — is obsessed with what sound does in space. He bounces sin waves off walls and teapots and generally mucks about with our perception of where noises come from and how. A Lucier performance is as much installation as concert. How to convey that on disc? The excellent Trio Nexus manages it here, with intent, evocative performances full of detail and imagination. Music for Pure Waves, Bass Drums and Acoustic Pendulums (1980) clinches the daft fascination of pingpong balls papping cross rhythms against vibrating drum skins. Carbon Copies (1989) is an uncanny play on kitchen noises and bird song. In Risonanza (1982), synthesiser sin waves cause cymbals and oil barrels to resonate, and the effect here is mellow and sonorous. Broken Line (2006) is a relatively conventional trio in which a flautist plays gentle glissandos against vibraphone and piano long notes. It’s the most ‘recordable’ work on the disc, but in the end its directness makes it the least magic.

CD review: Eddie McGuire’s Entangled Fortunes

First published in the Guardian on 3 July, 2015

Eddie McGuire: Entangled Fortunes
Red Note Ensemble (Delphian)

Heartfelt and unambiguous, often straight-up tuneful, the music of Glaswegian composer, folk scholar and socialist Eddie McGuire hasn’t always had the attention it deserves — which makes this survey of chamber works doubly lovely. McGuire’s language takes in minimalism and romanticism, tango and Gaelic psalms, fiddle tunes and modernism, but the final mix is unfussy and organic. His music is imbued with leftist politics but isn’t heavy-handed about it. Elegy is a warm, gritty ballad in memory of McGuire’s father; Euphoria motors along in bright defiance of Cold War pessimism. The String Trio is urgent and animated with beautiful lapping interludes, while Entangled Fortunes is a more introverted tribute to the economic theories of Nobel laureate James Mirrlees, Quintet 2 is a fragile thing held together by single piano notes and wispy strings. Red Note is the ideal ensemble to champion McGuire’s folk-rich music: the players shift between silvery laments, robust dances and angular squalls in a blink.

CD review: Amores Pasados

First published in the Guardian on 3 July, 2015

Amores Pasados
John Potter etc. (ECM)

The tenor John Potter has been a Genesis fan since the 1970s, Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones has a thing for the music of Arvo Part, and when Sting recorded a Dowland album, he listened to Potter’s renditions of 17th century lute songs in preparation. There’s an audible dose of mutual fandom at the heart of this moody collection of lute songs old and new, plus the worthy challenging of distinctions between ‘art song’ and ‘pop song’. The disc mixes sumptuous Campion and Picforth originals with arrangements of Warlock and Moeran and a handful of rather earnest settings by Jones and Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks. Potter sings with a straight, breathy voice, determined not to sound classical. He’s well-matched in duets by Anna Maria Friman, who also provides gentle drones on Hardanger fiddle. Lutists Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman strum pliantly, shrouded in ECM echo. Best of the new numbers is Sting’s Bury me Deep in the Greenwood, written for the 1991 film Robin Hood and full of those twisting melodies and tugging rhythms that make Sting such a phenomenal songwriter.

Interview: Diana Damrau

First published in The Herald on 29 June, 2015

I’ve managed to catch Diana Damrau on a rest day. She’s at home in France, the morning after performing Donizetti’s Lucia in Munich the night before, having travelled home in the wee hours and, thanks to a pair of enthusiastic children, had about four hours sleep. Yes, she’s one of the world’s top coloratura sopranos — the current darling of New York’s Metropolitan Opera — but Damrau is not beyond working a gruelling schedule.

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