Thursday, 3 November 2011


Elegantly shot in some of Europe's finest cities, including London, this new four part series on the symphony featured the personable yet strangely dead-pan Simon Russell Beale as a presenter.

Starting with Haydn (didn't Charles Hazelwood do something similar about him for the Beeb a short while ago?)through Mozart and Beethoven, Russell Beale traced the symphony's earliest journeys through a succession of ornate palaces and concerts halls. Lovely though they were, the visual impact of each lessened the longer the programme went on.

Frustratingly, as is so often the case with classical music docs, very little of the symphonies being performed were allowed to breathe for more than thirty seconds before someone started gabbling over them. A pity; the excellent Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, under the direction of Mark Elder, appeared to be on cracking form. With an asset like this, who better than they to really make the case for the symphony?

Friday, 16 September 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

This new telling of John le Carre's spy thriller somehow manages to feel longer than the seven-part BBC series that predates it by thirty years.

It's not a bad movie, just a tad ponderous. Could the director's detailed recreation of shabby 1970s London have come at the expense of a more compelling narrative flow?

In its favour, the Gentleman's club aura that was evoked in the BBC version is completely stripped away. This 'circus' is made up of a bunch of ugly, hacked-off, lower-middle class spooks.

At its quiet centre is Gary Oldman as George Smiley. He has been praised for wresting the Smiley character from the long shadow of Alec Guinness. Maybe, but for my money he sounded remarkably like him.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Prom 70/RAH

God, so long since I've blogged. Have you missed me?...deafening silence.

I've only been to two Proms this year (but have heard plenty on the radio) mainly because South Ken is such a schlep but also because of my long term downer on the Royal Albert Hall as a suitable venue for classical music (mathewtucker passim).
However, there are one or two pieces in the repertoire I've always fancied hearing there, one of which, The Planets, was on show last night. My main fascination has been the work's final movement - Neptune - which Holst concludes with an off-stage female chorus. How would this, probably one of the most ethereal works of the twentieth century, come across in the Royal Albert Hall's cavernous space? It was too good a prospect to turn down. Thankfully, the hall and the combined forces of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Holst Singers didn't disappoint.

The orchestra, under David Robertson, had to visit six other planets before we got there, an amazing journey that explored every nook and cranny of orchestral timbres. And if Robertson's tempos ebbed and flowed rather awkwardly at times, it was none the less the most blistering account of the work one could ever hope to encounter. The audience paid absolutely no attention to convention, bursting into applause after each movement that was reciprocated by Robertson with his little nods and smiles of appreciation (no purist he).

And so to Neptune, Holst's final stop in space. Even before the movement started, eyes in the arena were being averted to the upper reaches of the hall in expectation of the off-stage female chorus. Then, out of nowhere, the faint and wordless sounds of the singers emerged from the darkest corner of the gallery (yes, such a place does exist, I've been there and it's lovely). So faint in fact they really could have been singing from outer space. As their voices grew in volume, the entire audience craned their necks upwards in Spielbergian awe. You could have heard a pin drop in that arena.

Then it was over. A piece of Albert Hall magic. My only regret is that the singers who had been invisible throughout, did not appear for the tumultuous applause at the end, but they had probably flown away by then.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Two Boys/ENO

Hmm. Good but not the work that heralds a new beginning for contemporary opera, it's just not interesting enough for that. It's basically Prime Suspect set to music. Nico Muhly's score is richly textured and always feels as if it's about to bloom into something wonderful but in the end is constrained by the plodding drama's unrelenting darkness. Still, one highlight of the entire production has been ENO's rather brilliant video campaign which has gone viral on Youtube I hear.

Sunday, 3 July 2011


Blog terribly neglected of late but good old fashioned work intervened to put it on the back burner. So, Glee at the O2 (basically a shopping mall with a very large concert venue in the middle). To be fair, the sight-lines inside are excellent. God knows, they need to be given the huge distance between where we were sitting in the outer reaches and the stage. As for Glee, what a remarkable product; a show brimming with politically correct characters and somehow becoming the new template for mainstream entertainment -how did that happen? Everyone in it is a modern day hero, fighting for and being proud of who they are. It's also a homage to good pop songs I suppose.

Friday, 1 April 2011

The Noisettes/Favela Chic

Uber trendy bar Favela Chic played host to Guy Chambers' Orgasmatron - a kind of variety show for up and coming music acts. I won't say too much about Hot Skank - I think the name says it all - but the night's headliners, The Noisettes are well and truly destined for great things. Fortunate then that they are the subject of a forthcoming BBC doc on song writing. Hifht

Friday, 18 March 2011

LSO Chamber Ensemble/St Luke's

UBS Soundscapes is a long standing concert series that takes place at the ever so attractive LSO St Luke's. With its emphasis on informality (you can drink alcohol basically) and musical eclecticism, most of the artists hitherto have been drawn from the jazz and world music circuit. Less in evidence have been classical performers which was partially rectified last night with a concert given by the LSO Chamber Ensemble.

Entitled 'Beethoven Plus', it allowed several of the orchestra's principals to strut their stuff in small ensembles and as soloists, an opportunity if ever there was for some unlikely corners of the repertoire to be explored. Chris Richards gave an immaculate account of Stravinsky's Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo which was preceded by a work for double bass, violin and piano by the little known composer Bottesini. It is, I'm told, a bit of a sacred cow in the double bass world that demands deft movement over the strings' harmonics. The soloist, Rinat Ibragimov certainly didn't disappoint, his performance getting the biggest cheer of the evening.

Beethoven's Septet in Eb rounded off an interesting night out, perhaps one for the musically curious than the layman. And if at times it felt a little like a school concert - one or two of the players need to work on their public speaking - it is hopefully the start of more regular appearances by this fine group of musicians.