Live Reviews

EIF 2014 review: Simon Keenlyside

First published in The Herald on 21 August, 2014

The English baritone Simon Keenlyside is tremendous in Verdi, gripping as Berg’s Wozzeck, a superb actor who can command the world’s grandest opera stages and turn them inwards for incisive psychological portrayals. So it was touching that his manner at the Queen’s Hall was almost shy. He didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands and his demeanour was earnest. Pianist Malcolm Martineau gave warm support throughout, but the recital had a sense of genuine searching and introspection.

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EIF 2014 review: Kronos Quartet

First published in The Herald on 20 August, 2014

In the programme for this concert, each piece was annotated with either a star or a cross: star meant the piece was written for Kronos Quartet, cross meant it was arranged for them. There are few ensembles that could boast responsibility for such a repertoire. In quick succession we heard Syrian wedding tunes, Malian balafon music and a quartet by Terry Riley (The Serquent Risadome – his 28th work for Kronos and not very interesting). There was a beautiful whispered miniature by Laurie Anderson called Flow, the best work of the night. There was Nicole Lizée’s take on 1960s East German Komische pop music that integrated quaintly archaic instruments like the Stylophone and the Omnichord.

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EIF 2014 review: Michael Houston

First published in The Herald on 20 August, 2014

The pianist Michael Houston is best known in his native New Zealand, where he lives and gives most of his performances. The 61-year-old isn’t a particularly well-kent name in the UK (which explains the number of empty seats at the Queen’s Hall yesterday) but this recital, broadcast live on Radio 3, had the potential to help change that.

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EIF 2014 review: LPO, Jurowski, Kopatchinskaja

First published in The Herald on 19 August, 2014

Vladimir Jurowski has been principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra since 2007 and seems to have honed his conducting of them down to bare essentials. At times during this concert he hardly conducted at all, just a flick of the hand or a bob of the head indicating his intentions. The result was orchestral playing both relaxed and engaged: seductively loose around the edges, still clean and properly balanced when need be.

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EIF 2014 review: Anna Prohaska

First published in The Herald on 19 August, 2014

First there was an announcement informing us that Ms Prohaska hasn’t been feeling well for the past few days, then an unnervingly long wait for the Austrian soprano to appear on stage. When she did, though, her opening lines were fearless. She sang a foreboding German folk song (‘Es geht ein dunkle Wolk herein’), her rendition quiet, unaccompanied and unblinking. What a striking start to her Edinburgh debut.

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EIF 2014 review: I, CULTURE Orchestra

First published in the Guardian on 18 August, 2014

I, CULTURE is the new youth orchestra of Eastern Europe, four years old and politically charged. Its players come from the former Soviet states of the Eastern Partnership – a pro-European initiative comprising Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – and from Poland, which funds and runs the orchestra. They rehearse in English, although Russian would be a common language for many. Some arrive with no orchestral experience; others are already professional musicians at home.

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EIF 2014 review: Bach’s B-minor Mass

First published in the Guardian on 17 August, 2014

Philippe Herreweghe’s approach to the B Minor Mass can be breathtaking in the right context. The Belgian baroque specialist makes Bach’s masterpiece into a platform for quiet self-reflection; the drama he builds is intricate and interior, and Collegium Vocale Gent – the revered period instrument ensemble and choir he founded in 1970 – typically plays and sings with a finespun, unpushy kind of poise. Even the way they tune reveals something of their ethos for careful listening: in painstaking slow unison, one note at a time.

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EIF 2014 review: Ute Lemper

First published in The Herald on 16 August, 2014

There’s something hugely satisfying about hearing a particular repertoire performed by the best person for the job. Today there is no greater interpreter of the songs of the Weimar Germany than the German-born, American-based Ute Lemper. She’s been singing the music of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht since she was a teenager; now in her 50s, her voice is the perfect fit. Think velvet with a serrated edge, purrs and growls, extravagantly rolled ‘rrrrr’s, breathy whispers, metalic hisses. Lemper can sound like she smokes 50 a day or as sweet as apple pie. What’s more, she cuts a fine figure in a black bowler hat, obligatory for Mack the Knife.

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EIF 2014 review: Piotr Anderszewski

First published in The Herald on 16 August, 2014

Piotr Anderszewski launched into the first work of his programme – Bach’s mighty B-minor French Overture – with the kind of muscle you might expect in Liszt or Rachmaninov, not a baroque dance suite. There is a singular and fascinating logic to everything that this Polish-Hungarian pianist does. He is so immersed in his playing that it sometimes feels intrusive to be listening. But it’s exciting to hear someone who so radically bypasses all received notions of interpretation – who doesn’t moderate his emotions into any kind of palatable middle ground.

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EIF 2014 review: Hilliard Ensemble

First published in The Herald on 15 August, 2014

I wouldn’t have missed this concert for all the festival: the last chance to hear the Hilliard Ensemble in Scotland before they permanently disband at the end of December. This most iconic of vocal quartets is bowing out after 40 phenomenally successful years in the business and before their trademark sound begins to falter too much. Much of that sound comes down to David James, the group’s countertenor and remaining original member. Inevitably his voice doesn’t soar as effortlessly and robustly as it once did; the most florid moments in this programme showed the sign of so many hard-working years.

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