Sunday, 22 March 2009

Stephen Hough/RFH, The Sixteen/QEH, The Grand Union Orchestra/Hackney Empire

An eclectic old week. Starting with Sat last with the dapper British pianist Stephen Hough. I admit, I wasn't all that excited about the show; Mendelssohn's 1st Piano Concerto doesn't rank as one of his greatest works, I don't think. I played it at college more than twenty years ago and was distinctly underwhelmed by it (but playing second trumpet never encourages wonderment about anything much). Luckily in Hough's agile hands it was shot through with such lively colours that it made the concert's opener - Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Haydn - pretty monochrome by contrast. Hough's playing is the perfect antidote to anyone tiring of the more flashy offerings of those at the other end of the concert pianist spectrum.

Choral works by Purcell and MacMillan featured in The Sixteen's gig at the QEH. If there is a better vocal ensemble out there I'd like to know who it is.
James MacMillan's works in particular stretched the singers' technique to the limit. You might think the QEH's dry acoustic might expose the odd muff here and there but it felt as seamless and lubricated as ever. I actually think ensembles like The Sixteen are better heard in a concert hall then in a cathedral where everything disappears into the rafters. I fear I may have made this point in an earlier blog but hey, only two people read this......

I'd never heard of the Grand Union Orchestra before yesterday but it seems to have been around for a good decade or two. It's an interesting and mostly enjoyable experience to hear a band as inclusive as GUO. Most corners of the globe were were represented on the Hackney Empire stage which, with the help of hundreds of school children, explored how post-war immigration has changed London's musical life. The music shifted from one style to the next and never out stayed its welcome. I particularly enjoyed the jazzers and the lovely Bengali singer. Some of the show's exuberance was lost after the interval. There were some fairly challenging songs about liberation which in the hands of one or two of the performers tested the audience a little too much (stifled giggles actually). And boy, did it get loud towards the end that I felt a bit cross on behalf of all the young ears on stage and in the audience. What I wasn't too sure about was whether the show was for children or adults.


mimismum said...

I loved Hough's playing too

mimismum said...
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