Reviews

 

A look at what is happening in the world of the arts.

Devendra Banhart

The Village, Dublin

Named after an Indian mystic, educated in San Francisco, long of hair and - until recently - big of beard, Devendra Banhart could too easily be dismissed as a tie-dyed cliche.

However, before anyone makes a snap judgment about the 24-year-old freak-folk hero, performing tonight in rolled-up jeans and slippers, they should at least hear the man out.

"Third eye, period in the sky," Banhart informs his rapt audience.

"Menstrual hippy jam," he adds, thoughtfully. He does have a way with words.

Like his accomplices in the avant-folk movement, Banhart's free-associating approach to songs and performance may be an acquired taste.

But his voice is more directly affecting; a reedy timbre tremulous with vibrato that recalls an unlikely union of Nick Drake and Billie Holiday. And though his muse routinely works with children and animals and other clanking metaphors for innocence, the absorbingly crisp structures of his song writing point more to a depth of experience.

Still, for all the finesse of opener Quetate Luna, an infectious This Beard is For Siobhan and an affectingly idiosyncratic At The Hop, the audience seem unsure whether to indulge or distrust Banhart.

Prone to musical skits, bizarre cover-versions (Charles Manson and Beyoncé, anyone?) and keen to perform as much unfamiliar material as possible, Devendra may gambol free through the meadows of his imagination, but punters begin to fear he will stop to smell every flower.

"Yeah I play all those songs," he responds to increasingly anxious requests.

"Just chill out, get wasted and do the chicken dance." Whimsical favourite Little Yellow Spider assuages many doubts, and, though few chicken dances are hatched, everyone responds to the thrumming warmth of news songs Long Haired Child and I Feel Like A Child.

Why stick to familiar paths, the wide-eyed and prolific Devendra seems to wonder, when there is so much left to be discovered?

Peter Crawley

Ulster Orchestra - Proinnsías Ó Duinn

Spires Centre, Belfast

Harty - In Ireland

David Byers - A Planxty for the Dancer Stanford - Piano Concerto No 1

John Kinsella - Symphony No 6

What does it mean to be an Irish composer? The question is bound to present itself in a series of free BBC Invitation Concerts featuring Irish music, of which this was the first.

For Harty, being an Irish composer meant espousing an agreeable but bland folksiness.

For Stanford, it meant writing as if he had been born in Leipzig.

His 1894 piano concerto, played here by Philip Martin, is Brahmsian to the point where one begins identifying the particular Brahms pieces he's borrowing from, the Second Piano Concerto being the most obvious source.

It's a pity Stanford chose to imitate Brahms rather than Wagner, as Wagner's music is more colourful, and the few Wagner-derived moments - a nod to the "Sleep motif" from Walküre in the first movement, a passage of Götterdämmerung-like calm in the last - were among the work's more memorable.

John Kinsella, for his part, must be tired of critics detecting the influence of Sibelius in his music, principally his rustling string ostinati.

Fortunately this symphony, completed in 1993, is a lively work in its own right, made livelier by three extra horns, stationed at strategic intervals in the balcony.

But the evening's most engaging music came in the quiet opening section of the Byers - 10 years older than the Kinsella, but the most contemporary sounding music of the concert and its most imaginatively scored.

The playing, which seemed reluctant to gel in the opening section of the Harty, was firm enough in the Byers and confident in the Kinsella.

Dermot Gault

Fabio Zanon (guitar)

NCH John Field Room, Dublin

Scarlatti - Sonatas K11, K477 Bobrowicz - Gran Polonaise Op 24

Albéniz - Zambra Granadina Torre Bermeja. Mignone - 4 Studies

Jobim - Luiza

Marco Pereira - Flor das Aguas

Fabio Zanon is a guitarist of rare artistry and his reputation ensured the National Concert Hall's John Field Room was sold out for last Friday's concert.

This conclusion to the four-concert Viva la Guitarra! series was devoted to classical music, and Zanon's programme, played in chronological order, ranged from the 18th century to the present.

The most remarkable aspect of Zanon's playing was the way he deployed his remarkable abilities for musical ends, both to define the character of individual works and to show differences of compositional style.

Transcriptions of two Scarlatti sonatas sounded as if they might have been written for guitar, and had a plausible, direct baroqueness. As a guitarist friend remarked, when Zanon followed these with Grand Polonaise by the Polish composer Jan Bobrowicz, who was writing nationalistic music somewhat earlier than Chopin, it seemed as if Zanon was playing a different instrument.

This stylistic range reached extraordinary levels in two other piano transcriptions, Zambra Granadina and Torre Bermeja from Albeniz's Piezas características Op 92. In these elaborate textures Zanon simultaneously used contrasting tone colours to differentiate the bass, the top line and the chordal mid-range. If there is such a thing as playing the guitar in orchestral style, this was it.

Finally there were the modern, mixed-genre sounds of waltzes by Zanon's Brazilian contemporaries, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Marco Pereira.

In their blend of popular styles and classical techniques, they made a strong conclusion to one of the most accomplished guitar recitals I have heard for some time.

Martin Adams