The Trumpet Shall Sound


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The Trumpet Shall Sound

Manchester Camerata & Tine Thing Helseth

Albert Hall, 14 December 2014

Tine Thing Helseth.  Photo credit: Paul Mitchell.

Tine Thing Helseth. Photo credit: Paul Mitchell.

As winter afternoon darkened to early evening, the silvery light fading from the frankly rather staid (monochrome, non-figurative) glass windows of Albert Hall, we enjoyed a bumper compendium of baroque concertos and traditional Christmas carols.

The highlights for me were Albinoni’s Trumpet Concerto in B Flat, a work full of lovely melodies that delighted the ear as they teased the mind, and Corelli’s classic Christmas Concerto – the latter just wonderful.  It was wonderful also to hear Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.3 in G major in all its glory, Nicholas Kraemer conducting a sizable ensemble of musicians and playing the harpsichord while he was at it.  An absorbing experience.

In Tine Thing Helseth, a supremely accomplished trumpeter, Manchester Camerata bought another young musician to the fore, to the delight of this audience.  She joined Manchester Camerata’s musicians for a couple of the concertos and for the carols ‘In the Bleak Mid-Winter’ and ‘Angels from the Realms of Glory’.  At the end, as an encore, she played a splendid, very touching Norwegian Christmas song called, I think, ‘My Heart Is Ever Present’.  You are surprised to learn that just over two hours have passed.

Superlative Sunday.

Forthcoming concerts by Manchester Camerata can be viewed here.

Nobody Move


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Nobody Move

By Denis Johnson

Picador, 2013

ISBN: 9781447248286

Now Denis Johnson  is a very fine writer – Tree of Smoke and the stories in Jesus’ Son are proof of that – but Nobody Move, a crime novel that was apparently first serialised in Playboy magazine, isn’t among his best works.

It is entertaining enough, has an Elmore Leonard flavour throughout, but betrays its origins too much.  The main character is Jimmy, a gambler heavily in debt.  Gangsters are coming after him, wanting their money.  There is also Anita, an alcoholic who may have two and a half million dollars stashed away somewhere.  They meet.  Stuff happens.  That’s pretty much it.

Some of it has an edge – to be absolutely just – but I think even Johnson himself lost interest in it, characters and story, the whole shebang, way before the close.  The novel sputters to an end.

Very ordinary.

2001: A Space Odyssey



2001: A Space Odyssey

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

USA, 1968

Cornerhouse, 30 November 2014

2001: A Space Odyssey

Stanley Kubrick’s curious epic traverses vast swathes of human history, of time and space, touching along the way on all that human beings were, are or could conceivably be.

As a great ape on the plains of Africa , as a being (of flesh and blood, still) whose astonishing technological invention has taken it to the stars.

Refusing to follow a straightforward narrative line (did he ever?), Kubrick’s approach is fragmentary, elliptical, visionary.  He has one virtuoso sequence, occurring when the surviving astronaut seemingly goes back in time to an eighteenth century French palace.  Psychedelic doesn’t really do it justice.  But, really, the whole film is extraordinary – and even such a simple action as the way people walk in a spaceship when in deep space is presented in a wholly fresh way.

In each potent episodic strand, at its very climax, we come across an enigmatic object, a tall, black monolith.  A symbol without referent, the monolith could stand for original sin, an alien or divine intelligence, evolution/progress or the violence and aggression that we as a species can never quite lose.  Any or all of the above.

According to some esteemed critics, this is the greatest sci-fi film of all time.  My only quibble with this judgement is that I’d maybe drop the limiting ‘sci-fi’ label.

Little Shop of Horrors @ the Royal Exchange Theatre


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Little Shop of Horrors

Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman

Music by Alan Menken

Royal Exchange Theatre, 9 December 2014

Gunnar Cauthery as Seymour Krelborn in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (Royal Exchange Theatre until 31 January 2015).  Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

Gunnar Cauthery as Seymour Krelborn in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (Royal Exchange Theatre until 31 January 2015). Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

A really rather wonderful production of Ashman and Menken’s musical about a mysterious, flesh-eating plant that threatens to take over America.

The puppet of the plant was a prodigious wonder in itself – several puppets being used, in fact, as it grew by leaps and bounds – and it had a personality all its own, one that was not entirely endearing.  Myriad marvellous performances adorned the show, not least from Ako Mitchell as Orin, a sadistic dentist.  My only slight concern at the start was whether the space the cast had to work with was big enough.  In the end, they just about got away with it, and this was due in no small measure to the lively, sassy performances coming from the girl group (Ibinabo Jack, Joelle Moses and Ellena Vincent).  They made the space seem much bigger than it actually was.

A heartening Christmas Cracker effect closed a sterling production of a highly entertaining musical that you could also read as a critique of capitalism and/or a yarn about the return of the repressed, if you had a mind to.  Little Shop of Horrors runs all the way through to 31 January, further details can be found here.

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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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.


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