The Wizard Of Oz
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
The RSNO accompanied Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion down the Yellow Brick Road on Saturday, during the first screenings of The Wizard Of Oz in Glasgow with the score - as reconstructed by John Wilson and Andrew Cottee from the film - being performed live.
Over the past couple of years, screenings of classic movies with live orchestral accompaniment have been attempted with varying degrees of success by the BBC SSO, and it's safe to say that it works best when the film is silent; dialogue complicates things since the volume has to be ramped up to often distorting levels so it can compete with the "background" music which, of course, is actually in the foreground in the concert hall.
With The Wizard Of Oz, the first musical to receive this treatment in Glasgow, the big question was: how will it work when the orchestra is accompanying Judy Garland, her brain/heart/courage-deficient cohorts and the Munchkins as they sing? (Or rather, since the film was made in 1939, sang?) The answer, based on the evidence on Saturday night, is surprisingly well. Over The Rainbow was an unexpected joy. Hearing the RSNO accompany Judy Garland (there's a phrase you don't expect to write) was magical; the strings were sublime.
For much of the film, the fact that snippets of underscored dialogue were unintelligible didn't really matter (unlike in last year's "live" Casablanca which was infuriating from start to the point where I walked out), but in the last stretch - from the Wicked Witch's wet demise right through to Dorothy's safe return - barely a word was audible. Which was a terrific shame, and a disappointing end to the evening.
City Halls, Glasgow
Jaime Laredo and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra go back a long way: they made recordings together in the late 1980s and Laredo led the orchestra on early international tours around the US and Hong Kong. Compared with those old recordings, the septuagenarian Bolivian-American violinist has lost a lot of the warm sound and dexterity he once had in spades. For this concert he was billed as "director/violin", but wasn't able to do much by way of limber direction while he played (that was mostly left up to the orchestra's guest leader, Maya Iwabuchi). And yet he still drew beautiful sounds from the orchestra, and their gracious performance of Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony made up for glitches during the rest of the concert.
Maybe it was the spirit of old friends reunited, maybe it was the fact that Laredo was joined as soloist by his wife, cellist Sharon Robinson, but something had inspired a seriously sentimental whiff to the programme. Romantic tidbits filled the first half: the SCO's strings shimmered in Dvorak's early Romance, though Laredo struggled to make the solo part sing, and glowing woodwinds supported Robinson's burnished tone and broad gestures in Dvorak's Silent Woods. Husband and wife played with touching complicity in The Muse and the Poet, a ponderous tone-poem by Saint-Saens.
Highlight was Laredo's sturdy, unsentimental account of Mendelssohn's Scottish. He steered clear of too much mist and mystery in the slow introduction, and when the main theme picked up it was simple and well-defined. The adagio was noble, intimate; the finale rounded off with a chunky coda. Hardly a revelatory performance of this well-trod symphony, but with such refined orchestral playing it was solidly enjoyable performance.
Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
Polish jazz has long had the properties of an iceberg. For every musician who has come to international attention, such as trumpeter Tomasz Stanko or violinist Michal Urbaniak, to name but two, there have been dozens working away often beneath the surface. Such a pair would appear to be Waldemar Golebski and Tomasz Kobiela, who play wind synthesiser and guitar respectively in the quartet Niteline and who have been active on the Polish scene long enough to relate to the time when jazz was an underground music.
During the first of two quite different sets Golebski introduced tunes by Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane that Polish musicians would have learned from American radio broadcasts listened to clandestinely. Although the group's playing was good and their arrangements novel - Coltrane's ballad Naima was given a clipped groove and his soprano blow-out My Favourite Things taken at a reflective waltzing tempo - this didn't have the heart or the variety of tones and group dynamics that they produced on the set of Polish jazz standards that followed.
Much of this music came from the prolific film composer and jazz pianist Krzysztof Komeda, who worked closely with Roman Polanski and whose melodies and chord sequences inspired Golebski and Kobiela particularly into searching, deeply expressive improvisations and not a little, always aptly musical, both-hands-on-the-fretboard trickery from Kobiela. Bassist Michat Rapka and drummer Michat Peiker lent both propulsive muscle and sensitivity as Golebski succeeded in making his much-maligned instrument a vehicle for delicate, soulful phrasing as well as articulating raw emotion in an exciting style that would certainly merit further investigation of Niteline's oeuvre.
Queen's Hall, Edinburgh
At the end of Saturday's Hispanic Festival showcase, a voice came unbidden into my head, asking: Where on earth do they find these people? The answer is, of course, starkly obvious but the festival and its director, Maria Conte, do seem to have a hotline to a supply chain of extraordinary flamenco talents.
This latest in a run that's becoming almost routine in its brilliance, with direction from Conte herself, majored on the character of the participants rather than technique, although you have to know what you're about also, one presumes, to pull off the moves and percussive footwork that are involved.
Querencia translates as fondness and there was love in all its guises in the dramas that unfolded in guitar music, raw, vocal chord-paring song and flamboyant movement. Guitarist Pedro Sierra provided an expert soundtrack, setting the scene with improbably fluent, at times searingly intense commentaries. He's currently Ballet Flamenco de Andalucia's music director, so you'd expect expertise, but his feeling for the dancers' needs was further explained in a guitar-free encore where he proved no mean mover himself.
Often the only accompaniment required was hand-clapping or the fervent, whole-hearted singing of La Tobala as grand master Jose Galvan variously primped comically, suggested proud defiance or removed his jacket with a flourish that was part torero, part balletic hero. His daughter Pastora all but filled the stage with her personality and dress-lifting manoeuvres that carried both a certain hauteur and a sense of fun, not to mention her voluminous shawl. All in all a fantastically entertaining evening that made the exit on to a wet Clerk Street seem disorientating and prosaic by comparison.
Over The Wall/John Knox Sex Club/Book Group
And so two Scottish pop acts returned from hiatus: art-rock diviners John Knox Sex Club reformed; electro-heartbreakers Over the Wall got themselves back together again. And to celebrate, they released a split-single via Edinburgh DIY imprint Gerry Loves Records, for which this was the Glasgow launch.
This stowed-out gig heralded a welcome return for these distinct local voices, and so too did it reinforce the charms of a label whose A&R credentials are impeccable (alumni include Miaoux Miaoux, Conquering Animal Sound, Adam Stafford and Wounded Knee) and whose hand-crafted products are gorgeous. (The Over The Wall / John Knox Sex Club seven-inch comes on mint-green vinyl.)
The imprint has more delights in the pipeline, as hinted at by the evening's opening set from megaphone-toting alt-rockers Book Group, an Edinburgh four-piece whose Grandaddy/ Teenage Fanclub/Sebadoh hybrid is a thrill. Some sleuthing by the merchandise desk confirmed that their forthcoming single, on blue vinyl, will also arrive via Gerry Loves.
Chamber-punk saviours John Knox Sex Club unleashed the almighty, roving Kiss The Dirt and the marauding art-rock of their Gerry Loves offering, Animal, in a typically startling performance - in no small part thanks to frontman Sean Cumming, who is equal parts incendiary street preacher and post-punk superstar.
Electro-brass pop duo Over The Wall raised the roof and stole our hearts. They remain one of Scottish pop's unsung heroes; a duo who celebrate love, and life, and youth in devastating and euphoric ways. Their Gerry Loves contribution, Tell Her I Love Her, induced swooning, while the crowd out-sang them on favourites like Shifts and Thurso. More people should hear their words; should sing their praises and their songs.
London Film Festival
12 Years A Slave
Dir: Steve McQueen
With: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender
Runtime: 133 minutes
APPLAUSE erupted at the end of the screening of 12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen's quietly magnificent evisceration of slavery. The last time that happened after a London Film Festival press show the movie in question was The King's Speech, and we know what that went on to do at the Oscars.
Adapted from the memoir by Solomon Northup, 12 Years is a crowd rouser rather than a crowd pleaser, such is the unflinching way it explores the trade in humans that left some rich and millions broken. Although its focus is broad, its strength comes from being the story of one man, an individual whose experiences are the very stuff of nightmares.
Northup, a violinist, was a free man living in New York when he accepted an invitation to dine with some fine fellows who promised him a job. After the fellows turn out to be anything but fine he wakes to find himself in chains and on his way to the South. So begins an odyssey that shows him the worst in human nature, and just occasionally the best.
As in Hunger, McQueen spares the audience almost nothing. Chiwetel Ejiofor is outstanding as Northup, a man stripped to his physical and mental core, with Michael Fassbender (a McQueen regular now), coming a close second in the acting honours as a Bible-bashing and barbaric slave owner. This is breathtaking film making, a picture about slavery that is so brave, skilful and heartfelt it would be a courageous soul who would try to better it.