Pursued by a Bear »

  • Reviews: TV on the Radio – Tripod, Dublin

    November 17, 2008 @ 10:46 am | by Fiona McCann

    They may have chosen to take the “difficult second album” phenomenon literally with 2006′s occasionally brilliant but largely frustrating Return to Cookie Mountain, but this year Brooklyn’s blisteringly experimental outfit TV on the Radio finally delivered on their unbearable promise with Dear Science, the significantly less-difficult third album, which seduces as much as it challenges.

    Headlining Heineken Green Synergy at a jam-packed Tripod, the art rockers have lost some of their thorns, but none of their edge.

    A song is still as likely to borrow from jazz as punk, the beat equally prone to swing or stutter, while instrumentalist David Sitek will reliably attach wind chimes to his guitar or attack a wet snare drum with what appear to be over-sized cinnamon sticks. No matter how layered the music, there’s always room for another idea. The difference now, though, is the mellow maturity that pulls off those combinations without agitation.

    Tunde Adepimbe’s lyrics retain a trace of the student radical, obliquely howling down capitalism and global warfare, but his voice has softened from shrieks and stabs into what you might call actual singing. Skittering across the stage as though moved by the vibrations alone, he bats the air during the elegant chaos of Young Liars , part preacher, part demonic possession.

    A judicious set even finds older songs subtly transformed. The Wrong Way , once a menacing concoction of jazz squawks and industrial throbs, is here accessible and declamatory, like a deconsecrated gospel hymn.

    Of the new material, Golden Age arrives with the unabashed urgency of disco, Shout Me Out struts with soulful purpose and Dancing Choose simply lets loose. It’s an ebullient display, but mercifully they can still be a little gauche. Banter is minimal, the surging Wolf Like Me is thrown out way too early, and in between the ferocious growl of DLZ , or sweet reverb of Love Dog , they somehow neglect to play Halfway Home – easily one of the best tunes of 2008. That’s TV on the Radio all over though; they are no longer a hard band to love, but they won’t make it too easy. – Peter Crawley

  • Reviews: Lloyd Webber, Chowhan – NCH, Dublin

    November 14, 2008 @ 3:46 pm | by Fiona McCann

    Debussy – Sonata in D minor. Britten – Sonata in C.William Lloyd Webber – In the Half Light. Nocturne.

    Brahms – Sonata in E minor, Op 38.

    This recital by English cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, presented at the National Concert Hall by the Music Network, was a frustrating experience.

    Lloyd Webber plays as if the performer is always altogether more important in the scheme of things than the composer. It’s a high-risk proposition that can be extremely effective when it comes off. Sadly, this time it didn’t.

    Lloyd Webber’s approach to the three major sonatas he offered was patchy at best, and he made the music his own in ways that seemed to take it away from the composers.

    The rashness of his approach to the sonata by Debussy resulted in a severe loss of rhythmic stability. The sonatas by Britten and Brahms sounded over-stressed and effortful, with little sense of a solidly co-ordinated partnership with pianist Pam Chowhan, whose intentions generally seemed to communicate themselves more clearly than Lloyd Webber’s.

    The interplay at the opening of the Britten was one of a number of moments which suggested what might have been. It was delightful in its caressing freedom and every note seemed perfectly placed.

    There were other passages, too, where sheer gorgeousness of tone won the day. But these were few and far between in an evening where the simple nostalgic romanticism of two short pieces by the cellist’s father, William Lloyd Webber, was altogether better served than the major fare that made up the bulk of the programme. MICHAEL DERVAN

  • Reviews: Leonard, Johnston, OSC/Daniel – NCH, Dublin

    November 13, 2008 @ 10:22 am | by Fiona McCann

    Bach – Concerto for Oboe and Violin.

    Mendelssohn – Violin Concerto.

    Elgar – Serenade for strings; Cello Concerto.

    The Orchestra of St Cecilia strayed well outside the norms of orchestral programme planning for the second of its November concerts at the National Concert Hall.

    With three concertos on offer rather than the more conventional one, this was an evening that managed to begin and end with concertos and offered just a single non-concertante work, Elgar’s Serenade for Strings, as a makeweight at the beginning of the second half.

    Violinist Catherine Leonard featured in both works in the first half, partnered by Nicholas Daniel (who was also the evening’s conductor) in a reconstruction of a Concerto for Oboe and Violin by Bach, and having the limelight to herself in Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E minor.

    Her playing in both works was light and nimble, although the lightness was not always to the music’s advantage.

    There was a strange lack of definition in the Bach, as if the overall sound picture was slightly out of focus, an effect that was fully dismissed only when Nicholas Daniel engaged in some moments of full-on expression.

    Leonard’s playing took some time to settle down in the Mendelssohn, most of the first movement in fact.

    It wasn’t really until after the cadenza that her mercurial musicality seemed to find its stride.

    Daniel’s lean and sharply accented handling of the orchestra may have deprived the music of some of its warmth, but it also had an adaptability which seemed to give Leonard free rein in her often impetuous and sometimes even skittish approach to the work.

    Elgar’s Serenade for Strings and Cello Concerto are pieces often milked for more than they can actually yield. This performance avoided that pitfall.

    Admittedly, there was a certain expressive anaemia in the Serenade, and Guy Johnston’s reserve in the concerto may not have satisfied listeners who like cellists to take a heart-on-sleeve approach to this piece.

    Yet his playing lacked for nothing in nobility, and he brought to the concerto a sense of sometimes profound resignation which more than compensated for those moments where the pallor seemed too consistent.

    The audience was well-attuned to his message, and gave his performance the warmest response of the evening. MICHAEL DERVAN

  • Reviews: Kanye West – RDS Simmonscourt, Dublin

    November 11, 2008 @ 11:23 am | by Fiona McCann

    Are hip-hop celebrities at elevated risk of clinical megalomania and delusions of grandeur? Is that cause or correlation? Rap music was born of quickness and rhyme, and its early practitioners competed fiercely with each other to stay at the cutting edge. You had to be able to say you were the best, so mainly you rapped about how it was so patently clear that you were the best. That overt megalomania still spills out of all the top acts, but the trick has become to sharpen the point: what will be nature of the claim – bombastic, sarcastic, threatening, wry?

    Kanye West has chosen a straight-up form of pure vanity, a sterling self-regard, and he has grown too powerful to be in the avant-garde of the music. But as he showed at the RDS, he has not become a static dispenser of his own celebrity. Rather, he is still working it, sweating hard, digging deep and sincerely into a song when the rhymes need force behind them, while at other times just loping or lolling, chin thrust, through a riveting spectacle, letting the highly produced music share the stage with his highly produced persona.

    The stage: ’twas a thing of beauty, by turns giant laptop, spaceship dashboard and alien terrain. It also jetted various colours of flame, swivelled, and appeared to run with water and whip with blown sand. Two huge screens flanked it, with video constantly close-up on West to allow the audience to track the psychic drama playing on his face (introspection clear by firm set of jaw).

    West trod this fantastic contraption in a sort of Buck Rogers deerskin. The show was part hokey drama about a crashed spaceship with a satnav named Jane. West, stranded and alone, rapped and sang about the various travails of superstardom and the general loneliness of being brilliant. Then, after a bit of lewd dialogue, Jane transformed into the eponym of West’s greatest hit, Gold Digger , the shooting stars themselves proclaimed him the biggest star in the universe, West saved himself, blasted off, and was raptured back for two encores. DAVID SHAFER

  • Reviews: Scharoun Ensemble – Imma, Dublin

    @ 11:22 am | by Fiona McCann

    Mozart – Horn Quintet K417.

    Weber – Clarinet Quintet.

    Schubert – Octet.

    The Association of Music Lovers (AML), which began life 41 years ago as the Limerick Music Association (LMA), is behind many of the finest chamber music concerts in Dublin. This one was no exception from the usual high quality. The performers were eight members of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra whose collective title, the Scharoun Ensemble, honours Hans Scharoun, the architect of the orchestra’s celebrated Berlin concert hall.

    The ensemble has long-standing connections with the LMA/AML. Its precursor, the Berlin Philharmonic Octet, gave the LMA’s first concert in 1967, and several return visits have included the association’s memorable 40th anniversary concert in April last year.

    This performance in the Great Hall of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham included two works from the 1967 inaugural programme, Mozart’s Horn Quintet and Schubert’s Octet. The addition of Weber’s Clarinet Quintet made for an uncommonly satisfying afternoon’s listening.

    Coordination was, when necessary, managed through the delicate signalling of first violinist Wolfram Brandl. For the most part, however, the playing was as if guided by democratic instincts, each player taking his turn as primus inter pares as required.

    Thus neither the horn player, Stefan de Leval Jezierski, nor the clarinettist, Alexander Bader, availed of the extra bow merited by their superb soloistic contributions to the two quintets.

    A more fulfilling live performance of either piece would be hard to imagine, except perhaps that Jezierski’s infallible and characterful tones might have been directed a little more towards the audience.

    The keystone of the Scharoun Ensemble’s repertoire remains the Octet by Schubert, which they finally released on disc three years ago. Every moment offered something to savour, be it flexible and subtly foregrounded melody, uncommonly well-focused harmony or pristine tonal matching. And with most of the repeat marks observed, the six extensive movements ran to just over an hour of absolute pleasure. ANDREW JOHNSTONE

  • Reviews: Kitt, Medjimorec – Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin

    @ 11:21 am | by Fiona McCann

    Schumann – Märchenbilder. Anthony Payne – Out of the

    Depths Comes Song. Prokofiev – Sonata Op 119.

    English composer Anthony Payne (born 1936) enjoys the mixed blessing of attaining his greatest public attention through someone else’s music. In 1998 his elaboration on Elgar’s deathbed sketches for a third symphony was a major popular success, with Payne earning a degree of exposure that would have been hard to predict on the basis of his previous work.

    Foremost among the impressive features of his Elgar completion were his mastery of large orchestral forces and his ability to sustain the continuous presence of Elgar’s voice. So it was interesting to hear Out of the Depths Comes Song , a 10-minute piece for cello and piano which is Payne writing in his own voice. It was the world premiere.

    The dedicatee – Austrian cellist Florian Kitt – explained in a brief introduction that the piece has a rather romantic, impressionist surface which belies the complex string textures the cellist must work through. The structure is in mirror form, possibly involving retrograde lines (if I understood correctly) and certainly seeing the “song”, having risen from “out of the depths”, going back to them at the end.

    Kitt, who has a special interest in contemporary music, brought to the Payne piece an element of animation and intensity that had been missing in his earlier quite bland account of Schumann’s child-inspired Märchenbilder . Also contributing to a shortage of expressivity in the Schumann was pianist Rita Medjimorec whose velvet touch was simply too universally applied.

    Velvet was perhaps also the wrong approach for the Prokofiev Sonata, which seemed to me to be missing the bite that is part of its make-up. And although the duo’s best moments were in this piece – including some nice lyrical touches – it mostly felt as though there was a much better piece trapped inside, raring to get out. MICHAEL DUNGAN

  • Reviews: Goldfrapp

    November 10, 2008 @ 10:18 am | by Fiona McCann

    Over the course of four albums, Goldfrapp have nailed the seemingly impossible task of making fantastically catchy yet mysteriously complex pop music. Comparing the English duo’s live show to a football match might, at first, seem like a strange analogy.

    The band’s display in Tripod, however, had many ingredients that resembled a hard fought encounter between two teams, in this case the audience and the performer. The show had two distinct halves; the first was a subdued game of cat and mouse with each side reluctant to give anything away while the second half was far more open and entertaining.

    The reason for this unusual sate of affairs stemmed from the actions of Alison Goldfrapp. Dressed in a revealing pink silk costume with a six-piece band (minus co-member Will Gregory), all in matching white, the singer was a picture of self-assured yet detached grace.

    A couple of songs into the set, she brusquely requested that fans abstain from using flash photography. In Liverpool, a week earlier, Goldfrapp had stormed off stage due to this same request being ignored. Bristles of tension were palpable in the audience’s reaction and it created a frosty atmosphere that took time to thaw. Musically, the band never put a foot wrong. Utopia allowed Goldfrapp to show off her spectacular voice, and the spiky string arrangement of You Never Know was dazzling if not rousing.

    Little Bird provided the breakthrough that brought proceedings to life. Allowing the musicians to flex their muscles, the swirling psychedelic folk tune triggered the dancing feet of the audience.

    Following this with the electro-glam of Number 1 and candy-pop Happiness ensured everyone remained on-side. Even Goldfrapp finally appeared to be loosening out, as she tossed out compliments and lapped up the crowd’s responses.

    With the squelchy synths of Train giving way to Goldfrapp’s possessed theremin playing the show had turned from a jittery competitive fixture to a full-on friendly.

    Proving that it takes more than just great songs to make an excellent gig, and having delivered hits for a full 90 minutes, the band and fans parted in a wave of mutual adulation. BRIAN KEANE

  • Reviews: Kempf, RTÉ NSO/Valade

    @ 10:18 am | by Fiona McCann

    Henri Dutilleux — Métaboles. Ravel — Piano Concerto in G. Franck — Symphony in D minor.

    Henri Dutilleux’s Métaboles , commissioned for the 40th anniversary of the Cleveland Orchestra and premiered under George Szell in January 1965, has kept a very respectable presence both on disc and in the concert hall. Its return is like the arrival of an old friend who always has something new to say.

    Dutilleux, who turned 90 two years ago, is a fastidious craftsman, and the polished detail of his orchestration is always a pleasure.

    What was in his mind in writing Métaboles , he has said, was “the mysterious, fascinating world of everlasting change”.

    That change is carried through not only with a sure sense of organic development but also with a satisfying ultimate resolution.

    Pierre-André Valade’s performance with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra on Friday was sure-footed in pacing though not always as tidy in detail as one would have wished.

    Valade took a fairly direct approach to César Franck’s symphony in D minor, a work that treads a dangerously fine line between the hypnotic focus of an orator who knows how to stay focused on the essential message and the repetitive emphasis of a speaker who doesn’t know how to get meaningfully beyond the core point.

    Valade’s clear-headedness did not fully avoid an effect of going around in circles, and the music-making was hampered by a lack of dynamic variety in climaxes, which effectively created a ceiling above which the music could not rise.

    The high point of this performance was the finely taken cor anglais solo in the second movement.

    Freddy Kempf was the agreeably energised soloist in Ravel’s piano concerto in G. He relished the music’s jazzy snap and bluesy inflections, and generated a gorgeously calm raptness for the long solo that opens the slow movement. MICHAEL DERVAN

  • Reviews: Ryan Adams and The Cardinals

    @ 10:14 am | by Fiona McCann

    The wild child of rock is now in his 30s and he appears to have entered a new era of stability.

    Tonight there was little of the shambolic self-indulgence that had become a feature of a Ryan Adams gig. Instead, Adams was focused and together, delivering a blistering two-hour set. This was Adams at the peak of his powers with backing band The Cardinals acting as the perfect foil for his talents.

    Inevitably, much of the set was devoted to tracks from the impressive new album Cardinology , in which a re-invigorated Adams fuses his alt country roots with some driving rock. It blends elements from the likes of Neil Young, U2 and The Grateful Dead.

    The wunderkind must be slowing up. Cardinology is only his first album in 18 months; this from a highly prolific performer who delivered no less than three albums in 2004. In truth, Adams has probably still to deliver on the potential he showed on his breakthrough Heartbreaker album in 2000. His drug problems and other demons have often overshadowed his talent.

    But tonight, it is clear that sobriety and Ryan Adams are comfortable bedfellows.

    Fix It , the stand out track from the new album, features a searing Wilco-style guitar, while Cobwebs showcases Adams’s great vocal range. Adams also treats us to his eerie, countrified version of Oasis’ Wonderwall . After hearing the version, the Gallaghers once observed that Ryan Adams now owns the song; on stage it was a real highlight. There was no shortage of others as Adams rolled out songs from his back pages including familiar favourites like When The Stars go Blue and La Cinega just Smiled .

    There was none of the usual tantrums and grandstanding from Adams. Instead, the whole gig had a warm glow as Adams and The Cardinals settled into what they used to call a comfortable groove.

    Adams performed half a dozen songs during a long encore. His voice was at its most fragile and haunting on Stop , his song about sickness and recovery.

    The new album, which has soared into the US charts, is expected to be Adams’ last on Lost Highway records. It may be that part one of his brilliant careers is over. Apparently, he favours a change of direction – more rock and less alt country.

    There is every reason to be excited by the prospect. Ryan Adams may be cleaned up and chilled out, but he is a bona fide rock star. This gig throbbed with great vocals and great playing. Adams is back on track. SEAN FLYNN

  • Astral Weeks Live

    November 3, 2008 @ 1:33 pm | by Fiona McCann

    So we all know by now that Van Morrison will be performing Astral Weeks live on Friday and Saturday at the Hollywood Bowl. Which even sounds bizarre as I write it. His reasons? “In the 60′s and 70′s the record companies did not support the music, so I never got to take these songs on tour, and I certainly did not have the money to do it.” Fine, and of course Van Morrison can do with Astral Weeks and the songs thereon whatever he likes. But. The concerts are to be recorded live and released as Astral Weeks Live At The Hollywood Bowl. Even the title makes me shudder.  I know I should reserve judgment and wait to see if any magic is produced on the nights involved. But I’m not. Anyone else (apart from Sean O’Hagan) unsteadied at the thought?

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