Upclose – From Tango to Gaga

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Upclose – From Tango to Gaga

Manchester Camerata & Martynas Levickis

Gorilla Bar, 25 November 2014

A hugely enjoyable concert that was also a crash course in the accordion, its range and (largely unexplored, you tended to feel afterwards) potential.

Playing alongside a quartet of Manchester Camerata’s finest musicians, Martynas Levickis showed, in a quite brilliant fashion, the versatility of his instrument.  The accordion stood in for piano, harpsichord, bandoneon, violin… he memorably took the lead in Vivaldi’s ‘Winter’ violin concerto.  As well he performed a couple of virtuoso works by Arne Nordheim and Daniel Nelson, specifically written for accordion.  His arrangement of Lady Gaga’s Telephone was jaunty and entertaining enough, but is basically an attention-grabber- See, this can be done too. Whereas Astor Piazzola’s Five Tango Sensations was magnificent; intensely pleasurable.

At the close you were left with great admiration (of course) but also astonishment at what the accordion could do.  Also, anticipation of what the accordion might do in In Levickis’s hands in the future.  For he will innovate, that’s a certainty.  He will take the instrument to places we cannot yet imagine or predict.  Not since I saw Marius Neset play the saxophione, some two years ago now, have I been so blown away by a young musician.

As an aside: according to an acquaintance, Club Lash used to hold their get-togethers in this same space in the Gorilla Bar (formerly The Green Room, of course).  If true, it’s the first time I’ve attended a classical music concert in what was once a S & M club.

Anyway, pretty much the same programme of music will be performed tomorrow evening in Ulverston.  Do not miss.  Details here.

Winter Sleep

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Winter Sleep

Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Turkey, 2014

Cornerhouse, 23 November 2014

Winter Sleep

It’s not the story that sells this Palme d’Or winner; there’s not much of one, in truth.

It’s the stunning wintry mountain landscapes and the painterly composition of each interior scene.  Imagine Chekhov in a Turkish setting (with Istanbul not Moscow being the city of elopement of choice) and you’ll get the gist of what it’s like.  Some way may find it a bit too talky and meandering (in a word, Chekhovian) and with a running time of 3 hours and 16 minutes it is certainly overlong.

Still, a beautiful and interesting film.

Songs of the Golden Age

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Songs of the Golden Age

By Emma Kirkby and Jakob Lindberg

RNCM Concert Hall, 22 November 2014

This exquisite Saturday evening concert, a million miles away from the facile X Factor crew, was an impeccable combination of virtuoso musicianship and sublime English songs.

Its canvas covered a century and more – there were songs from Dowland, Byrd, Purcell and others, not least Shakespeare – but the time whizzed by all too fast.

Emma Kirkby gave wonderful performances of each song; Jakob Lindberg accompanied her on lute and played some instrumentals as well.  They had some quite jaunty melodies, these instrumentals/lute solos, which made you wonder about their kinship with traditional folk songs, about which see the review of The Full English.

A perfect way to spend a Saturday evening.

And here are more details of Emma Kirkby and Jakob Lindberg.

 

 

Northern Ballet’s Cinderella

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Cinderella

Music by Philip Feeney

Choreography by David Nixon

Northern Ballet

Palace Theatre, Manchester

18 November 2014

Martha Leebolt and Tobias Batley in David Nixon’s Cinderella.  Photo by Bill Cooper.

Martha Leebolt and Tobias Batley in David Nixon’s Cinderella. Photo by Bill Cooper.

With Northern Ballet’s new production of ‘Cinders’, it’s fireworks all the way.

Set in an Imperial Russia of snowy landscapes and sumptuous ballrooms, the brisk narrative pace, present from the get-go, doesn’t ever really let up.  The action is punctuated by superb pyrotechnic and lighting effects, the costumes and sets are luxuriant, there are circus acts, bears and huskies and even a magician.  Blink and you miss something.

Each character has a set of signature dance moves and gestures.  Among a slue of splendid dance performances, Jessica Morgan as Cinderella’s stepmother stood out.  She was an elegant and sinister presence.

Philip Feeney’s score seemed to emphasize the drama of the story rather more than Prokofiev’s traditional score, if I remember the latter correctly.

If you’re looking for a Cinderella that pulls out all the stops, this superb production is the one to see.  Current tour dates can be found here.

The Imitation Game

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The Imitation Game

Directed by Morten Tyldum

UK, 2014

Cornerhouse, 16 November 2014

The Imitation Game

Turing’s wartime work at Bletchley Park and his sexuality, which naturally considering the law of the land at the time he sought to hide, are the focus of the film.

Happily, Benedict Cumberbatch and Alex Lawther, the young actor who plays Turing as a boy, manage to capture (you feel) the essence of his character: note in particular their off-tempo hesitancy, an almost-stutter at certain moments: a characteristic of Turing that many remarked upon.  In respect to period detail, brisk dramatic pace and strong supporting performances the film pretty much gets it right as well.  A few doubts do arise about its accuracy, mind.  For one thing, the title of Turing’s famous paper, the one where he introduced a test for whether a machine could think, was actually ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence’, not ‘The Imitation Game’, as he says here when being interviewed by a police officer.  And was Alexander really such a ladies man?

Still, after the war what went on at Bletchley Park was hushed up and all but forgotten.  It is therefore welcome to have this film as a belated public acknowledgement of the significance of Turing’s and others’ (Jack Good, CHO’D Alexander) achievements.

A splendid film.

RNCM Symphony Orchestra

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RNCM Symphony Orchestra

RNCM Concert Hall, 14 November 2014

An immensely enjoyable concert which featured works by Berlioz and Prokofiev, two of which were inspired by Shakespeare’s plays.

We began with Berlioz, the rousing King Lear Overture.  To follow, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3 in C major: scintillating piano-playing from Oliver She and a lot of intricate, filigree violin and viola.

As the concert’s crowning glory, there followed-  Well, only the complete orchestral score for Romeo and Juliet, probably the finest music ever written for a ballet based on a Shakespeare play.  Is this the finest music ever on a Shakespearean theme, including opera, film and songs?  That’s more debatable.  This performance was crisp and clear throughout, altogether bracing.  During the ‘Dance of the Knights’ sequence, the knights leapt, they didn’t limp, to paraphrase Tartakower.

When it was over, you wanted more.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof @ the Royal Exchange Theatre

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

By Tennessee Williams

Royal Exchange Theatre, 4 November 2014

Charles Aitken as Brick (left) and Dara O'Malley as Big Daddy in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF.  Photo - Jonathan Keenan

Charles Aitken as Brick (left) and Dara O’Malley as Big Daddy in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. Photo – Jonathan Keenan

Williams’ most personal play, a favourite amongst all his works, appears in a compelling production at the Royal Exchange.

He certainly created a fabulous, large-as-life, monstrous character in Big Daddy, brought into being by Dara O’Malley’s intense performance this evening.  Though brash and crass, Big Daddy is also vital and – surprisingly perhaps, although why should we be surprised? – accepting; more accepting, actually, of Brick’s (played by Charles Aitken) indeterminate sexuality than he himself seems to be.   Above all, it’s the desire to face life head on, the commitment to plain speaking and, for want of a better word, truth, that makes Big Daddy such an attractive character.  An American Falstaff, one can see why he meant so much to Williams.  Pertinent here as well is that great Frank O’Hara line from ‘My Heart': ‘I want to be at least as alive as the vulgar’ (whoever they are).  You want to have whatever Big Daddy’s on.

Left to follow in Liz Taylor’s footsteps, Mariah Gale as Maggie more than fills her stiletto pumps.  She’s by turns, sometimes all at once, seductive and vulnerable and ballsy: a heartbreaker.  Significantly, she feels a kinship with Big Daddy.  Once too often, Maggie tells us that she feels like ‘a cat on a hot tin roof’ (Enough, already; we get it!), but other than that, the play can’t really be faulted.   And nor can this production.  An excoriating journey.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 29 November 2014, further details can be found here.

 

Nightcrawler

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Nightcrawler

Directed by Dan Gilroy

USA, 2014

Cornerhouse, 31 October 2014

Everything you’d ever want from a contemporary crime film; neo-noir so nasty it gets under your skin.

One night Lou Bloom (played by Jake Gyllenhaal, whose performance is as grotesque as realism allows: Matthew McConaughey in Killer Joe would be a good reference point), a high-functioning sociopath, comes across a car wreck.  While the medics are attending to the injured, a cameraman – a modern day Weegee, though this is Los Angeles not New York – is filming the scene, footage that he will later sell to the TV news.  It’s an event that serves as an epiphany for Lou: here is rewarding work where his lack of empathy with people, indeed his positive dislike of them, not to mention his amorality, is a big plus.

At first, Lou is content simply to observe and record accident victims, scenes of violent crime.  Then he decides to take a more active role.  He is an artist, naturally he needs to innovate…  If you watch the film waiting for Lou to slip up, you’ll be disappointed – and that tells you something about what it’s about.

Yes, it is a critique of the media’s penchant for sensationalism and violence in the spirit of films like Network.  What’s as pertinent, however, is that it charts the point where the middle class fear of crime and accident (which is the market Lou feeds) segues into the fear of being unable to get by in a flat-lining economy where businesses are closing, investments are losing their value and underemployment (if not unemployment) is rife.  And even if you’re in employment, the stress of continually needing to hit targets (as Lou’s boss, played by Rene Russo, finds) is energy-sapping.

The key term is ‘precariousness’; we all of us live in a precarious world, or ‘a runaway world’ as Ulrich Beck would have it.  You can become a victim of the economy just as easily as a victim of crime.

But not Lou, he succeeds and prospers.  The Fates don’t rule his world.

Nightcrawler is a brilliant film, brimming with excellent performances from the likes of Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed and Bill Paxton, as well as Gyllenhaal.  As noir, it somehow put me in mind of Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.

The Full English

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The Full English

RNCM Theatre, 1 November 2014

The Full English are a band of folk musicians brought together by Fay Hield to record an album of the finest English folk songs.

A further purpose was to make the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) archive, from which the songs were taken, better known.

The concert featured songs from the album, and a few others besides.  One song, The King of the Cannibal Islands, had a strong klezmer flavour.  Another, Stand by Your Guns, an Appalachian feel.  There was an exactness and a lovely openness to many of the songs, not least the two Joseph Taylor songs; each one a world you could step into.

Further details of The Full English band can be found here.  And the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) archive is here.  I’d definitely recommend looking around the EFDSS site: it’s a treasure house.

Confidentially Yours

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Confidentially Yours

By Charles Williams

Duckworth, 2014

ISBN: 9780715649114

Confidentially Yours

Charles Williams, a prolific writer of paperback originals in the 1950s and ‘60s, produced several mysteries of real quality.  Among them, Confidentially Yours, first published in 1962.

The set-up is classic noir and goes something like this: after being brought in for questioning by the town sheriff over one murder, John Warren returns home only to stumble over another.  Shortly thereafter, he goes on the run and, aided by his resourceful and beautiful secretary, sets out to bring the real murderer to book and so prove his innocence.  He succeeds, after a fashion.

It is an entertaining mystery and the set-up reminded me of the odd Hitchcock film – The 39 Steps, North by Northwest, the sort of film where romance blossoms between a couple as they try to evade capture by the police.  Little wonder, then, that François Truffaut, Hitchcock’s great admirer, adapted Confidentially Yours for the screen as Vivement dimanche! in 1983.

You could say, tongue in cheek, that it is the diverting story of how a man loses one wife and finds another.  There are lots of twists and turns to the story, the characters are well-defined (if anything, they behave a little too straightforwardly – no melancholy moping as in some novels I’ve read recently) and Williams’s prose is plenty good enough.

Ed Lynskey has written a pretty good article about Charles Williams, which can be read here.

The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.

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