Monthly Archives: December 2015

CD review: Piazzolla’s Grand Tango!

First published in the Guardian on 3 December, 2015

Tango was made by immigrant communities in the bars and bordellos of 19th-century Buenos Aires, a tangle of glowering love songs and bygone classicism. Astor Piazzolla — who wrote more than 300 tangos — was born in Argentina to Italian parents, grew up in New York and finessed his craft in Paris. None of this is pure-bred stuff, and Piazzolla’s music needs to be dirty and tragic as well as elegant. Dutch violinist Isabelle van Keulen goes full-throttle in her second Piazzolla album with a sultry virtuosity and massive vibrato that makes it easy to hear why she keeps coming back to this music. Her ensemble stays just the right side of glossy but compared to Piazzolla himself playing the big hits featured here — Otono Porteno, Primavera Portena or Le Grand Tango — the Keulen Ensemble’s well-behaved bravura lacks a certain private grief. The exception is Soledad, which is quietly, spacious and deeply sad.

Review: Lynched

First published in the Guardian on 3 December, 2015

Folk music politics is a funny business. Take the Dublin four-piece Lynched: beatnik, audacious and utterly soulful, they’re alternately hailed or hammered as Young Turks of the Irish scene — heck, they describe themselves as ‘folk miscreants’ — yet they are totally rooted in tradition, obsessive as the next die-hards about song dates and lineage, reverent to the core about their heritage. What’s maverick about them is attitude, a kind of do-or-die grit honed during former days in punk bands. They know exactly where they’re from and are simply ballsy enough to shout about it: geographically speaking that would be Phibsboro on Dublin’s Northside (and they sing with the potent drawl to prove it) and musically it’s anti-war ballads, Travellers’ songs, music hall tunes, shanties and old-school uilleann pipe, fiddle and concertina reels.

Continue reading

BBC SSO at 80

First published in The Herald on 2 December, 2015

“You give them the smallest of ideas and it just glows,” says composer and conductor Matthias Pintscher when asked what makes the BBC Scottish Orchestra tick. “They take an idea and they go places with it. The expression flows. Maybe it’s more difficult to bring them down to real pianissimo, maybe it isn’t a perfectly tuned and blended ensemble, but the energy is stunning. It’s an orchestra of characters, so it’s not surprising the sound is full of character. They ping-pong ideas off each other and that means I can ping-pong ideas off of them. Not every ensemble is able do that.” (Pintscher should know: as well as being Artist-in-Association of the BBCSSO he is Music Director of the Paris-based Ensemble intercontemporain, founded by Pierre Boulez in the 1970s and one of the most prestigious contemporary music outfits in the world.)

Continue reading