Live Reviews

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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EIF 2014 review: Artemis Quartet

First published in The Herald on 15 August, 2014

The Berlin-based Artemis Quartet perform standing up (the cellist sits on a plinth so he can communicate eye-to-eye with his colleagues). Does it make any difference? For string ensembles and chamber groups, standing up has become visual code for engaged, youthful, sparky playing. In some cases the sound doesn’t match the image; with the Artemis, it most certainly does.

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EIF 2014 review: Paul Lewis

First published in The Herald on 14 August, 2014

Paul Lewis walks on stage in the way that he plays: straight-backed, matter-of-fact, giving little of himself away. The Liverpool-born pianist established his Beethoven credentials nearly a decade ago when he performed and recorded all the sonatas and concertos. In this concert he returned to four sonatas – two middle period, two late – and delivered them with steely, meticulous resolve. It was impossible not to admire his stamina and discipline, but the evening left me feeling little else.

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EIF 2014 review: Jordi Savall & co

First published in The Herald on 13 August, 2014

Jordi Savall described this concert as “a vast musical fresco” and that it was: the celebrated Catalan viol player gave us a generous guided tour of a century of music from southern Europe and the Ottoman Empire, told in chronological order and punctuated with drum rolls and Gallic voice-overs. The theme was War and Peace and Savall had gathered his troops; on the stage were his two instrumental ensembles (Hesperion XXI and Le Concert des Nations), his vocal group (La Capella Reial de Catalunya) and a quartet of Turkish traditional musicians. The colour spectrum of the amassed gaggle of ancient instruments was spectacular.

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EIF 2014 review: The Sixteen

First published in The Herald on 13 August, 2014

This concert opened with the gentlemen of The Sixteen intoning in stern unison: “ L’homme, l’homme, l’homme armé”. It’s a French renaissance ditty that was popular in its day – over 40 mass settings incorporate it – and at first glance the tune has the simple dimensions of something you could whistle, catchy and buoyant. Here, though, its message was altogether more menacing. The text tells forebodingly of an armed stranger clad in armour who should be feared. This little tune is the nub of this year’s International Festival programme: it’s the earliest manifestation of the theme of artistic responses to conflict.

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EIF 2014 review: SCO/Ticciati

First published in The Herald on 11 August, 2014

Somewhere in amongst the brawny trills and arpeggios that open Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, pianist Lars Vogt turned to the audience and flashed us a grin. Was he just having that good of a time already? Vogt’s playing was immaculate, of course; the German is a technical powerhouse who could most likely reel off the beginning of the Emperor in his sleep. The tantalising thrill of his playing comes not from the flashes of breezy grandeur (though these are undeniably fun) but from the attention he devotes to the little notes, the quiet moments, the sudden colour shifts and hushed rapture.

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