EDINBURGH does know how to be
decadent. In the Fringe this year, Old St Paul's Episcopal Church
hosted a series of concerts under the banner heading of "Hot
Chocolate at 10": late-night recitals preceded by a cup of melted
chocolate, topped with cream.
The recital that I attended was "An
Hour with Bach". The performers were John Kitchen (the church's
Director of Music), on harpsichord, and Mark Bailey, on cello. They
performed three sonatas for viola da gamba and obbligato
harpsichord, J. S. Bach's BWV 1027-29. There was much to admire
throughout, but the Sonata in D (BWV 1028) was the most
The opening Andante had thoughtful
expression and phrasing; the following Allegro exhibited a strong
and muscular interplay between two instruments; and the second
Andante had a breadth that enabled the final Allegro to shine.
Earlier in the evening, I had attended
a one-man play, Gotcha! It was written by Charles Barron
and well acted by Paul Hughson. It observed at close quarters the
best and worst aspects of humanity, and how external influences
affect one's judgement and moral code. For the most part, the text
is narrated by Ernie, a grandfather and traffic warden. He also
plays several characters: some are family, others are just people
from the narrative of the play. The material is a thoughtful survey
of how unsatisfactory Ernie's lot in life has been.
The Germans lost the war, but it is
they who build expensive BMW cars that are driven by the rich
motorists who habitually go over time on their parking meters. He
has been a victim of alcohol abuse, but his grandson doesn't touch
the stuff: he's fit, and he's going to be a soldier. He has a
harrowing experience in Afghanistan, and takes refuge in the
comfort of drinking.
The play is peppered with acute and
touching observations, the keenest of which is the mirrored
response of David's mother on being told that her son is missing in
action, and of the Afghan's being told that her son has been killed
(by David). They, in turn, narrate identical texts: everything in
life has another side. All in all, Ernie doesn't reckon that God
has managed the circumstances and events in his life at all
When he is diagnosed with cancer, a
result of his drinking, he is lucky enough to find a stranger who
can care for him. He looks heavenwards and bellows: "Gotcha!"
St Mary's Scottish Episcopal Cathedral
hosted a stunning Liszt piano recital by David Wilde. He is a
septuagenarian. He has an impeccable musical pedigree influenced by
Solomon's pupil Franz Reizenstein and Nadia Boulanger. His recital
consisted of only three pieces: Funérailles, Sonetto
104 del Petrarca, and the Mephisto Waltz No. 1.
This was playing with panache and
clarity, bravura and subtlety. If I had had some ready cash on me,
I would have bought one of his current CDs.
CHARPENTIER's opera David et
Jonathas has been enjoying a revival in a new production from
the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence. It isco-produced by Opéra Comique,
Paris, and Théâtre de Caen.We were very lucky to see it in the
Edinburgh International Festival.
David et Jonathas is in the
form of a prologue and five acts. It was simply and effectively
produced, if somewhat heavy on angst in direction. The musical
forces of Les Arts Florissants swept the action along with poise
and style. This was early music in big-band style.
This was not composed as a stand-alone
opera. It was performed in Jesuit colleges with Saül,
Latin texts by Fr Pierre Bretonneau. Both works were interleaved in
In modern performances, we get the
Charpentier pieces run together to form an opera. This worked well
with a clean set that shrank in width and height at key points in
the drama. When it was not at full width and height, it appeared
bisected, trisected, or significantly reduced, to show events that
happened before or in between the action within the musical texts.
The acting and singing were of the highest standard, and the
interplay of the characters all took place in indoor settings.
Pascal Charbonneau sang with feeling
and colour, fully portraying the sensitivity of David. Ana
Quintans's Jonathas was carefully crafted and portrayed, enabling
her role to standequal to that of David, and Saül, sung by Neal
Davies. Davies inhabited the role of Saül with a convincing sense
of venom and neurosis. Dominique Visse gave a sterling performance
as the mother and the witch. Frédéric Caton was persuasive as
Achis, and Kresimir Spicer was a noble Joabel.
If you find yourself able to get to a
future performance, you should seize the opportunity.
Watt is a theatrical
monologue. We are advised that Watt the show is not
Watt the book. The text has been selected from the novel
of the same name by Samuel Beckett. Barry McGovern made the
selections and delivered the monologue in a touring production from
the Gate Theatre in Dublin.
One of the first lines spoken, and I
paraphrase here, comments that it it is difficult to think of God
without thinking of him as a man, which, indeed, he was at one
time. The entirety of the show is a detailed description of people
living apparently godless lives in which their sole purpose, and
joint purposes, seems to be to analyse the details of an
This was, curiously, a joy to witness.
It was insightful, informative, beguiling, and intriguing. It was
relaxed in delivery. As a friend said to me, it was lovely to be in
the theatre and to feel that one was not being shouted at.
The performance was a mixture of word
play, word rhythms, and carefully judged silences. We heard about
the grand piano the mice had enjoyed. It had only a few strings
remaining, and even fewer dampers, and few of them coincided.
Watt is a down-at-heel character who
takes a job in service, in the house of a Mr Knott. It is one of
those big houses outside Dublin which have fallen on hard times -
like all the people living and working in it. Mr Knott has the same
meal served to him twice a day - that is, if he chooses to eat it.
If he doesn't, it is offered to a mythical dog. We hear of sessions
where a lady lays her head on Watt's lap, and Watt in alternation
rests his head on her breast.
It's a hapless life. I was so
intrigued that I bought the book. It is published by Faber &
PHILIPPE HERREWEGHE conducted his
forces, the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées and the Collegium Vocale
Gent in works by Brahms and Bruckner in the Usher Hall.
The choral piece by Brahms, Gesang
der Parzen ("Song of the Fates") is a rarity that perhaps
deserves to remain in obscurity. The lofty text refers to the gods'
remaining at eternal feasts at golden tables, and striding from one
mountain to others. The orchestral writing is more interesting than
the text. It has some wonderful bass sound in the lower strings,
contrabassoon, and bass tuba. There are, however, some heavy
stresses that create a sense of an uneven gait in the music: not a
winner for me.
The two Bruckner offerings were Te
Deum and Ninth Symphony. Herreweghe's period performances of these
two pieces were enlightening and convincing. So often the Te Deum
seems to start with a bang, and continues as a race to the finish.
The most obvious thing about this performance was the orchestral
and choral phrasing, closely aligned to a keen balance and blend of
orchestral and choral voices. Although this is a work in one
movement, the sections were clean and clear. The vocal soloists'
contributions were more obvious and audible. Hanna-Elisabeth
Müller, Ann Hallenberg, and Maximilian Schmitt all made solid
contributions; but the gold star must go to the bass Tareq Nazmi
for his "Et rege eos, et extolle illos" ("Govern them and
lift them up").
Great praise also goes to the
Collegium Vocale Gent. The Ninth Symphony held many delights. The
greatest was how the brass was cleanly chorded and integrated into
the overall orchestral sound, as opposed to blasting out over the
top of everything else. If I were to pick one moment from this
performance, it would be the attack in the strings in the Scherzo.
You can have your chance to choose a highlight if you listen to the
broadcast of this concert on BBC Radio 3 on 10 September.
Greyfriars Kirk hosted the Hebrides
Ensemble with Synergy Vocals. They performed the world première of
James MacMillan's Since it was the Day of Preparation
. . . The text starts at the point in the scriptures where
MacMillan's St John Passion of 2007 finished.
The forces employed are worthy of
comment: cello, clarinet, horn, harp, and lute/theorbo. The singers
consist of a soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. Brindley Sherrattsang
the part of Christus, bass solo. The singers sounded chimes when
This is a complex piece formed in
three parts including seven sections. Each section is preceded by
an instrumental solo interlude, and each part closes with an
interlude played by the quintet of instrumental soloists. At times,
the biblical text is delivered with a parallel text in Latin. This
was very effective.
The standard of performance was
excellent. The instrumental solos in particular were great to hear,
but probably lasted too long. The horn solo was particularly
beautiful, and well played. They were too long to serve as
contextual links, and as such weakened the structure and effect of
the piece. I am sure that, with some effective editing, this will
become a popular and regularly performed work.
THE European Union Youth Orchestra,
conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, gave the UK première of
Twenty-Seven Heavens by Richard Causton. It refers to
William Blake's concept of 27 layers on the way to Eternity. It is
a piece for large orchestra. It begins with the two lead violins in
a screeching ascending roar, moving on to a moaning warble, and
then to long notes in the winds, accompanied by a variety of
percussion. There are some Tristanesque bits of orchestration,
followed by woodwinds snarling under the brass sections and
thumping drums. The piece comes to an end with a great big
pendulous tune, complete with guitar-type strumming cellos. It ends
suddenly mid-growl. The orchestra played splendidly. You can form
your own opinion during a BBC Radio 3 performance on 11
The City of Birmingham Symphony
Orchestra accompanied the violinist Baiba Skride in
Offertorium by Sofia Gubaidulina. The performance was
conducted by Andris Nelsons. This piece is a violin concerto that
takes a theme from Bach's Musical Offering. The piece also
represents the offertory of the mass. It is a complex work with
dense orchestration, and falls into three sections, but is
performed in a single movement.
The success of the performance came
from the obviously shared vision of soloist and conductor. The
transitions between sections were identified by cadenzas in the
solo-violin score. The piece ended with a chorale-like coming
together of the soloist and the string sections of the orchestra in
a substantial chorale-like setting. The excellent playing received
My final concert at Greyfriars Kirk
was given by the Alim Qasimov Ensemble. The instruments included
the balaban, a cylindrical oboe; the daf, a drum;
the kamanch, a spherical spike fiddle; a naghara,
a cylindrical double-sided drum; and the tar, a
double-chested plucked lute.
Some readers may be familiar with this
father-and-daughter-run group from their recordings with the Kronos
Quartet. The basis for much of their music is the Azerbaijani
classical music known as mugham. Qasimov says that this is
élite music for a select group of people who have some kind of
inner spirituality. The texts in this performance were of love,
sacrifice, and fate. The rich textures and rhythms created a sense
of well-being and warmth within me. The performance was warmly
received by the large audience. I think they felt the same way.