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International Festival: Reviews

Simon Keenlyside/Malcolm Martineau

Simon Keenlyside/Malcolm Martineau

Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

KATE MOLLESON

THE English baritone Simon Keenlyside is tremendous in Verdi, gripping as Berg's Wozzeck, a superb actor who can command the world's grandest opera stages and turn them inwards for incisive psychological portrayals.

So it was touching that his manner at the Queen's Hall was almost shy. He didn't seem to know what to do with his hands and his demeanour was earnest. Pianist Malcolm Martineau gave warm support throughout, but the recital had a sense of genuine searching and introspection.

Dressed in a dapper Edwardian three-piece, Keenlyside spent the first half exploring songs relating to the First World War. Many were English: Butterworth's wistful AE Housman settings; Vaughan Williams's take on the Louis Stevenson poem Youth and Love; John Ireland's beautifully whimsical John Masefield songs; Finzi's hymn-like setting of Shakespeare's 'Fear no more the heat o' the sun'. Some of this repertoire has the capacity to sound honeyed and cloying, but Keenlyside is too grounded a singer for that. He brought gravitas and unsentimental pathos to these accounts of regret and loss.

His voice sounded rich at at its centre but ragged around the edges; certainly his upper register wasn't supple enough to conjure up much colour. The fragility worked in songs like Hanns Eisler's uneasy Zwei Lieder ('Despite these miseries' and 'The only thing that consoles us') and the haunting Brecht miniature Proverb 1939.

The recital's second half turned to core German lieder territory. There was gracious give and take between Martineau and Keenlyside in Schumann's Ballade des Harfners and ten of Hugo Wolf's Mörike songs. The text was always vivid and the piano provided the colours that the voice couldn't quite muster.

Tallis Scholars

Greyfriars Kirk

MICHAEL TUMELTY

IF your average choral director, trying to come up with a novel idea for a programme, announced he was going to stage an evening consisting of one piece in support of war, and another three featuring a series of laments over a range of deaths, he would be taken aside by his directorate and told to lighten up if he wanted an audience.

Peter Phillips is not your average choral director. Over four decades, Phillips himself, and the choir he founded, The Tallis Scholars, have not only built up a wide reputation for their supreme choral singing and masterly insight into, and interpretation of, Renaissance choral music, they have also cultivated in their audience an enormous level of trust.

That trust was everywhere to be seen in their Festival concert in the Greyfriars series on Tuesday night where the audience poured in: it was at capacity and there was not a seat to be had. The buzz was tangible.

And what a performance they put on, in at the deep end with a swaggering rendition of the ancient song The Armed Man, not so much a call to arms as an expression of support for war in the protection of Christianity.

This was followed with a sublime performance by the Scholars of Palestrina's Mass on the subject, suffused with the expressive honesty that flowed from the purity and clarity of their singing.

The Laments which followed the Mass, by Mouton, Josquin and Gombert, with a philosophically-titled In media vita by Lassus were profound, touching and often sombre in their beauty. A glorious night, lightened at the end by Gombert's Regina Coeli to cheer us up.

Gnosis

King's Theatre

MARY BRENNAN

It seemed that out of darkness, dance escaped ... awakened by the rhythmic summons of a drum. Then made flesh in the whirling spins, the scything arms and precise gestures that character classic Kathak - and are now part of Akram Khan's choreographic DNA.

This solo showcase is by way of a prelude to Gnosis, an introduction to the technique that has been with Khan since childhood. Now, his body is like a dowsing rod for the syncopations his cherished musicians play with, swerving and looping through pulsing variations while he emerges from the darkness into light, renewing the time-honoured footwork and story-telling forms with an energy that never loses focus, or blurs the nuances of movement.

Darkness is also at the heart of Gnosis, Khan's compelling response to the story of the blind-folded Queen Gandhari and her son Duryodhana. Taken from the Mahabharata, the narrative confronts the moral blindness in a mother's love for a son she knows will destroy them all. This time, the dance begins in silence, with Fang-Yi Sheu holding that silence - and our gaze - with the force-field of her presence. Her white stick is both a staff of power and a sign of her blinkered vulnerability and when Khan looms out of the shadows - dressed in black, like a fateful shadow himself - the rod becomes potently emblematic of their conflicted relationship, even at times like the umbilical that once connected them.

The choreography itself connects Kathak with contemporary, even as the music - enhanced by a sobbing cello, and a crisply martial drum-beat - brings together accents from East and West. The dancing is extraordinary in every detail. These are the final showings of Gnosis - it will go dark after Edinburgh.

This review appeared in later editions of yesterday's Herald.

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