Sweet Mambo

Sweet Mambo

Playhouse, Edinburgh


Forget the adage "it takes two to tango" - in Sweet Mambo, the women don't seem inclined to partner up, whatever the music.

They drift on and off, all seven of them, trailing their long skirts like clouds of glory, tossing their long hair like the sirens of mythology.

No wonder the three men in their anonymous dark suits scamper after them, attempt frisky advances, roll at their feet - and are repelled at best, ignored at worst.

But this is Pina Bausch, remember. And in keeping with grainy black-and-white footage from Tourjansky's bittersweet comedy Der Blaufuchs that occasionally flickers across the upstage drapery, there are hints of unresolved desires pushing these women to mistake lust for love.

And therein lies a poignant vulnerability that surfaces in a welter of dishevelled, fraught behaviour in the darker second half of this foray into the ­power-plays within relationships.

Actually, Bausch's imagery embraces more than the battle of attractions and rejections between men and women: Sweet Mambo - the penultimate work before her death - is haunted by a sense of transience.

"Don't forget!" is the recurring, emphatic watchword as various women tell us their names before going into their own solo dances.

The caprices of these satin-clad butterflies whirl them - and us - from the wickedly funny to the erotically-charged to the bruisingly brutal when the men assert themselves with more than a nuzzling kiss.

The divas dance with sultry langour and whirlwind passion - the men also prove limber and sinuous - but it ends so hauntingly with Julie Shanahan dancing slowly into the darkness, as if melting into the mists of time.

We leave already holding on to our memories. We've just seen dance delivered as a love letter to a choreographer who has gone, but can't be forgotten.

Repeated tonight.

Takacs Quartet

Queen's Hall


SOMETHING remarkable happened at the wonderful second concert on Saturday by the glorious Takacs Quartet.

Cynics will reckon I'm being fanciful and indulging my imagination. I'm not. It's just an honest perception and I'll come to it in a moment.

First, the performances. We heard three masterpieces in Janacek's Kreutzer Sonata - the First String Quartet - Barber's Adagio and Beethoven's opus 132 in A Minor.

Obviously I refer to the music; specifically, I refer to the Takacs performances.

With unforced playing, hugely sophisticated yet still natural-sounding homogeneity of ensemble, a sense of pace and momentum that felt absolutely right for each piece, and a refinement of projection almost beyond description, the Takacs performances were in themselves masterpieces.

Janacek's Kreutzer Sonata has a powerful background narrative of love, suspicion and probable murder, superbly unfolded by first violinist Edward Dusinberre in his introduction.

The Beethoven has no such narrative, but it does have the composer's expression of relief and thanks to God for his recovery from illness.

With these backgrounds fresh in my mind, I suddenly found myself listening to these familiar pieces in a different way.

Instead of following the clues, as it were, in the Janacek narrative, I was hyper-alert to the network of motivic and thematic cells that knit together this piece, which can seem rather loose-limbed, into a taut, dramatic entity.

And the cathartic effects of the Hymn of Praise in the Beethoven touched the character of the rest of the piece, with Beethoven unusually broad, relaxed, genial and ultimately exhilarating.

I was stunned by this performance, and it was all down to this magical group.

Czech Philharmonic/Fink

Usher Hall

Keith Bruce

It is gratifying to be able to report that Jiri Belohlavek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra most definitely ignored the impertinent request by an interviewer on BBC Radio 3 that they keep their best performance until last night's visit to the Royal Albert Hall for the Proms, when they repeated elements of Friday evening's Edinburgh Festival programme.

Saturday's second EIF concert saw Argentinian mezzo Bernarda Fink the soloist on Dvorak's setting of five Psalms, the Opus 99 Biblical Songs, among them a The Lord is my Shepherd that is the composer at his elegant best.

Belohlavek achieved pretty much the perfect balance between orchestra and the singer throughout in a work that should be heard more often than it is.

The concert began with another relative rarity in Hungarian conductor George Szell's post- Second World War orchestration of Smetana's First String Quartet, which makes the most of the original's dance rhythms as well as giving away the arranger's status as a great Beethovian. If Smetana and Dvorak were both great patriots, for all that the latter was writing in New York city, Leos Janacek's Sinfonietta, which filled the second half of the concert, was the most identifiably and best-known Czech music played during the orchestra's short Edinburgh residency, championed by conductors from Klemperer to Mackerras.

Rich, sonorous brass-playing was never overwhelming in Belohlavek's reading of work he clearly knew in every intimate detail. This finale to the Czech Phil's stay at the Usher Hall was also a showcase for the very fine string players in an orchestra that has its own distinct sound.

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Benedetti

Usher Hall


THE range of string colours in the first two minutes of Jiri Belohlavek directing the Czech Phil playing Janacek's Prelude: From The House Of The Dead put yesterday's concert by the Melbourne Symphony under Sir Andrew Davis to shame.

With basses ranged high at the front of the organ stalls - a placing that really came into its own in the Martinu Symphony that closed the concert - Belohlavek produced the highest-quality playing from the orchestra with which he has the closest affinity.

So it is all the more to the credit of our interloper into their midst, and an all-Czech programme, that Nicola Benedetti shone so brightly on Korngold's Violin Concerto.

Opportunities to hear Benedetti playing big pieces in such company can seem scarce, but this was not only the sort of expressive repertoire at which she excels, but also the piece she took into the pop chart, never mind the top of the classical one, at the heart of her Silver Violin album.

It was perhaps surprising, then, that she referred to the score, particularly in the finale, but it made no difference to her fine performance, with Belohlavek achieving a lovely balance between her solo voice and that of the answering principal flute, clarinet and viola in a sound that was filmic but never too lush - this music is proto-Hollywood rather than of the cinema.

Belohlavek needed no music for Martinu's Fourth Symphony, and those few from the dress circle who left for dinner after Benedetti missed an orchestra in peak trim playing their core repertoire with its ideal conductor. Their loss: it was sumptuous.

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


Royal Lyceum Theatre

Neil Cooper

The stark solo trumpet fanfare that opens Luk Perceval's polyphonic cut-up of First World War memoirs sets an anti-triumphalist tone for a multlingual piece drawn from Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet On The Western Front and Henri Barbusse's Under Fire, as well as contemporary sources.

What follows, as nine men and two women dressed in charcoal black suits and white shirts line up on crates in front of lamp-lit music stands across the lip of the stage, is an ice-cool piece of European post-modernism that uses the trappings of live art to evoke the horrors of war that arguably begat them.

The ensemble speak in German, French, Flemish and English, weaving dispatches from the Belgian front line around each other while gazing forward in reflection of photographs from the trenches projected behind them.

Descriptions of grotesquely dismembered bodies are delivered flatly, as if those recounting them have been blasted by collective shell-shock. When they do give vent, their words are possessed with the rage of Dadaist sound poetry.

Performers spin like tops, arms outstretched like human bombs waiting for the pin to be pulled. The martial thunder of battle is bashed out on sheets of metal. Against all the odds, there is romance between a nurse and the wounded soldier she tends.

Perceval's co-production between the Thalia Theater, Hamburg and NTGent brings home how the cannon-fodder bear the bloody brunt of war in a slow-burning elegy that honours them.

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