RNCM James Mottram International Piano Competition Concerto Final

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RNCM James Mottram International Piano Competition Concerto Final

RNCM Concert Hall, 3 December 2016

Clement Lefebvre

Our departure from Europe has been much exaggerated.

Clement Lefebvre won the competition, taking first prize from the international jury and the audience prize as well. Florian Mitrea came second and Daumants Liepins took third.

The concert itself, wherein each of the three finalists played alongside the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, was a dazzling affair. We heard Mozart’s Piano Concertos 20 and 21 (from Daumants Liepins and Florian Mitrea respectively) and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 3 (Clement Lefebvre). Each performance was received with fulsome, fraternal enthusiasm.

This Concerto Final was the climax of the fifth James Mottram International Piano Competition, a week-long event which attracted and showcased the talents of the best young pianists on the planet. They came from all over, including from Europe, as was plain to see. Long may it continue, until Brexit and beyond.

Love’s Labour’s Lost

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Love’s Labour’s Lost

By William Shakespeare

Royal Shakespeare Company & Chichester Festival Theatre

Opera House, Manchester

29 November 2016

Love’s Labour’s Lost

This, the first of the comedies (see Much Ado About Nothing), is set in 1914, a ludic and light hearted Arcadian Age.

Berowne (Edward Bennett) woos Rosaline (Lisa Dillon) with insouciance and mock ardour: as though he has all the time in the world. Don Armado (John Hodgkinson) is a grand figure – an Italian Falstaff, he by right belongs in an opera – and it is interesting to observe the response of the Academy’s dry Latin scholars (who’re pedantic, precise and just a sprinkle prissy) to an actual, rude as life, gross Italian. They cannot escape from Don Armado’s attentions; there are no safe spaces on stage.

The end of this play always has an elegiac feel (the marriages have likely been scuppered not deferred) but with the intrusion of war this is more pronounced still. ‘We’ll meet again’? No, these lovers have been cast asunder forever. Rosaline’s expressed desire to ‘choke a gibing spirit’ (she is taking aim at Berowne’s care-free wit) seems eerily prescient in this regard, a shadow before darkness (think of the gas attack at Ypres on 22 April 1915) descends.

If this all sounds very gloomy, I apologise! It is actually a very enjoyable play and there are deft comic touches throughout. There is the display of ‘vocal magnificence’ and exuberance (poesy and rhetoric are its subject as much as courtship) that made it Harold Bloom’s favourite play. In a sense, there are two plays here: an Edwardian comedy, as you experience it in real time, and a tragedy in retrospect.

As an aside, I have always found the backstory romance between Berowne and Rosaline intriguing (‘Did I not dance with you at Brabant once?’ and all that) and wish someone (ideally, Tom Stoppard) could be encouraged to build a play, a prequel to Love’s Labour’s Lost, around it.

Much Ado about Nothing and Love’s Labour’s Lost are at the Opera House in Manchester until 3 December, then they play at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London until March 2017. Details here.

Coyote

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Coyote

By Colin Winnette

No Exit Press, 2016

ISBN: 9781843448426

 Coyote

This story is told in the voice of a woman whose daughter has been abducted.

As she tells it,  we learn all about her marriage, an abusive – reciprocally abusive, let us be plain about that – relationship, and come to realise the nature of the world into which her daughter was thrown. It is a fraught, mistrustful, edgy world; a claustrophobic purgatory where souls gleam darkly.

Throughout, it is the voice that holds you fast and Colin Winnette captures its despair and bewilderment and rage. As a writer he evokes Dennis Cooper, the Denis Johnson of Jesus’ Son, the inviolable truth of Breece D’J Pancake: he inhabits their America, he’s in that kind of league. For me, he was a real discovery.

Just thinking on the loss of a child: the consequences couldn’t be anything other than tragic and violent, and so it proves. Those to whom evil is done, do evil in return.

The publisher’s description of Coyote can be read here.

Much Ado About Nothing

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Much Ado About Nothing

By William Shakespeare

Royal Shakespeare Company & Chichester Festival Theatre

Opera House, Manchester

26 November 2016

Lisa Dillon and Edward Bennett in Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Manuel Harlan

Lisa Dillon and Edward Bennett in Much Ado About Nothing. Photo by Manuel Harlan

The second of two romantic comedies currently doing the rounds (the first being Love’s Labour’s Lost), this production is a munificent triumph.

If abrasive banter is your breed of comedy, there is pedigree aplenty to be found in the rapacious duel between Benedick (Edward Bennett) and Beatrice (Lisa Dillon). In the exploits of Dogberry (Nick Haverson) and his colleagues, who are here cast as village Bobbies, there is scope for precision-choreographed slapstick also.

All the action is driven by intrigue, whether it be the diabolical machinations of Don John (Sam Alexander), a disgruntled soldier, or the sly matchmaking of Don Pedro (John Hodgkinson), Cupid’s co-conspirator, or even the worldly-wise ministrations of Friar Francis (Jamie Newall), who hits upon a scheme to reignite the divine flame of love in the heart of Claudio (Tunji Kasim). Everyone is hyped up, ever so slightly deranged. There is a frenetic edge to it all, as in all the great farces.

They have set the two comedies in 1914 and 1918, at the start and end of the First World War, in an Elizabethan manor house modelled on Charlecote Park. This adds a tragic edge to the jollity, but jollity there undoubtedly is: Shakespeare’s songs are sung in an Ivor Novello style, by a crooner at a piano; Beatrice is a spirited flapper who dances the Charleston.

Much Ado About Nothing is breathless entertainment and quite touching at moments as well. Go and give yourself an early Christmas treat!

Much Ado about Nothing and Love’s Labour’s Lost are at the Opera House in Manchester until 3 December, then they play at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London until March 2017. Details here.

Ghosts @ HOME

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Ghosts

By Henrik Ibsen

HOME, 23 November 2016

Ghosts

‘Tis past, that melancholy dream.

This is one of the great Norwegian playwright’s family dramas, where long-hidden secrets come drifting to the surface with consequences hilarious or dire, depending on your state of mind.

It is like looking into a cage at a zoo, this play. The people do their best to ape freedom, disappearing outside or into different rooms, but they cannot escape, they are held captive. Everyone has made wrong choices in the past, some (not least Helen, the mother, played by Niamh Cusack) earnestly want to change but are unable to. Or they are not inclined to change, full stop. These people are mendacious, weak, hypocritical; and, to top it off, they live such joyless lives. I mean, why do they?

On the whole, this is a decent production of a passable play but, really, the people in it are so wretched. Perhaps  this is what happens to human beings when they follow Luther rather than Lucretius. They believe that duty and goodness involves self denial (as with the Pastor) and that acting on vital desires leads to dissolution and sin (ditto Oswald).

There is a claustrophobic feel to the production that is kind of compelling and encourages forensic dissection of the human beings on display: that’s what I liked best about it. The actors’ performances are fine but the behaviour is so remote, alien almost, that you cannot watch it with anything other than a wry, sadistic amusement.

Personally, I blame the Reformation.

Ghosts is showing at HOME until 3 December, further details can be found here.

Duet

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Duet

By Katharine Armitage

Re:Sound Music Theatre

Carole Nash Recital Room, RNCM

28 October 2016
Duet

The set, first of all: you are surprised to find yourself in a cafe, at Poppe’s in Leipzig to be precise, a regular haunt of the Schumanns.

Music is played, several Lieder are sung, including ‘Die gute Nacht’, and we are shown scenes from Robert and Clara’s marriage. Of particular note was Oskar McCarthy’s performance: he gave us a Robert Schumann who was vulnerable and highly strung, teetering on the edge of insanity almost.

An excellent entertainment throughout, one where all the performers showed munificent talents. You were drawn back to Schumann’s work once more, which is a prime indication of the play’s power.

Francofonia

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Francofonia

Directed by Aleksandr Sokurov

France, 2015

HOME, 13 November 2016

Francofonia

The poster calls the film ‘an elegy for Europe’ – well, kind of.

There is a strand of elegy here, certainly, and what else? Some Nazis milling about the City of Light. Marianne and Napoleon in the Louvre. She spouting ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’: French and therefore European values, don’t you know? He pointing to a painting of his coronation as (Holy Roman?) Emperor and bragging: ‘That’s me, that is.’

‘What would Europe be without portraiture?’ Sokurov asks: an interesting question, for the face almost always elicits an empathy. And he shows us portraits in the Louvre alongside footage of the faces of prisoners of war, soldiers and refugees. The faces of people who are long dead. Muslims don’t have portraiture in their (non-figurative) art, he points out in his helpful voiceover. A nice move: let’s emphasise the differences between cultures, see where that gets us.

Sokurov, who is Russian, reminds us that Nazi Germany treated Soviet Russia much more harshly than they ever did France, their European brothers, in World War Two. And we know why: the Commissar Order, the Judeo-Bolshevik myth, all of that. True enough about the Germans, but he omits to mention that the Russians treated the Ukrainians and the Poles and various Baltic states very harshly as well.

Is Russia part of Europe? Who decides what Europe is, anyway? When Britain voted for Brexit, Angela Merkel made a remark to the effect that we, the Brits, were now no longer part of ‘the European family’, a curious echo of Nazi eugenics. That’s your answer right there, then, and an answer to Walter Abisch’s great novel (How German Is It?): Germany decides what Europe is and whether a particular nation is part of it, now (in 2016) as then (in the 1940s).

We don’t see a swastika flying on the Eiffel Tower in this film, so Sokurov missed a trick there. Otherwise it’s a finely wrought, provocative film. Well worth a look-see.

 

 

RNCM Session Orchestra

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RNCM Session Orchestra

RNCM Theatre, 29 October 2016

RNCM Session Orchestra

There was a new wrinkle this time out, the evening beginning with a support act, a band called Wanderlust.

They had a bold and beautiful sound, a front-woman to match in the shape of a young woman named Eirianna.

Some twenty three songs were performed by the RNCM Session Orchestra when they got to the stage. They included a diverse range of classics, to illustrate: ‘Take Me to the River’ by Al Green, The Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’ and (the last song) ‘We Are Family’ by Sister Sledge. Hannah Corcoran played a wonderful flute solo on one song.

It wasn’t profound or life-changing, let’s be clear on that score; for that you could do worse than read Hannah Arendt’s ‘We Refugees’, an article first published in 1943. But the concert was very enjoyable and entertaining, which was enough.

Yella

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Yella

Directed by Christian Petzold

Germany, 2007

HOME, 7 November 2016

Yella

This film could be called a metaphysical drama; I’d file it under ‘Intriguing and Interesting’.

Yella is a woman who splits with her partner and gets a new job in another city… or maybe not, maybe she stays put.

Here is my predicament. To enjoy a film you have to buy into it: allow the emotion to assume an empathetic weight, assign the characters’ actions a moral weight, and so on. If you don’t, any film is meaningless; a mere flicker of light on the screen. Without giving too much away, my problem with Yella lies with its ending. You realise that your trust, your empathy, has been misplaced. You’ve been conned. The film has missold its goods.

It is an intriguing ending, to be sure, which makes use of Ouspensky’s ideas about time. But the consequence is that the director avoids confronting Yella’s fate. And her actions – at one point, she tries to extort money from a guy – are now throwaway, disposable and inconsequential. Trivial.

Think of a guy who raises a series of questions, convinces you of their importance, then scarpers without making any attempt to answer them. That, in essence, is the nature of my annoyance with the film.

Yella was shown as part of Berlin Now.

 

 

Parallel

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Parallel

By by Laura Lindsay

Black Toffee

Hope Mill Theatre, 2 November 2016

Parallel

Chance plays a key role in this astringent play about homelessness: on the throw of a dice, each actor can play one of three parts.

Anna, Beth, and C spend a night together at a train station. Anna, a career girl, has just missed her train. Beth is one of those that Nick Flynn describes as ‘the invisible homeless’; she has not yet accepted that it is happening, has happened to her. C is a street-smart survivor and has her own patch to kip down for the night: in point of fact, the other two are in it.

We were given an engaging drama of fluctuating tensions and taut dynamics. At the end, it was clear that the aleatory preamble was justified: homelessness can happen to anyone.

Parallel is touring the UK throughout November, details here.