English National Ballet at Sadler’s Wells review ***

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English National Ballet

Sadler’s Wells, 26th March 2017

So there I am sitting at a performance of Steve Reich classics a few months ago. In front of me is some twenty something with an open tablet nodding his head up and down like he’s listening to Metallica. Utter p*ick. Anyway once I and another granddad had given him what for he, ungraciously, desisted, but I was still in a gruff mood.

So for the second half I move and find myself next to a lovely lady who looks exactly like I imagine a retired ballet dancer would look. We start chatting and, lo and behold, she is a retired ballet dancer and, I gather, was a principal no less who still teaches. Anyway I tell her in the course of our interval chat that ballet is not really my cup of tea. But she tells me that I must go and see this performance (given I like minimalism, Beethoven and Stravinsky which essentially provide the soundtrack to this gig).

Well all I can say is that I am very grateful to this delightful woman. Thank you. Turns out LL who also knows a thing or two about ballet would recommend this too.

Now first things first. If you have a pathological hatred of the cultured, London, metropolitan elite then I strongly advise you steer clear of the ballet at Sadler’s Wells. Blimey, these people clearly know what they are about. I stood out like a sore thumb with my utter lack of fashion sense and graceless movement.

So I gather the first piece, William Forsythe’s In the Middle Somewhat Elevated, is a modern classic. I loved the thumping 4/4 electro soundtrack (anyone remember Cabaret Voltaire) and could see how some of the movement must have been revolutionary when first seen. But I did drift out a bit, in a way that has happened before with dance.

The second piece, with 3 couples, Hans van Manen’s Hammerklavier Adagio, was disappointing I am afraid. The slow movement from Beethoven’s Sonata No 29 can drag on for an eternity in the wrong hands and so it did here. It needs real skill to preserve the line of the music and this felt just too slow, I am guessing in order to match the choreography. Maybe it wasn’t, but listening to my faves, Pollini, Gould and Brendel. playing the same movement, is satisfying in a way this wasn’t. So I couldn’t really grasp the piece because of this. Sorry.

However, the final piece, a Rite of Spring choreographed by Pina Bausch, was a revelation. Obviously this is one of the greatest pieces of music ever written and the band rose to the occasion (though not approaching the heights of the Philharmonia’s take under Salonen last year which was off the scale brilliant). But the dancing. Blimey. Now I see what all the fuss was about. I was up in the gods (having actually moved backwards from a ludicrously uncomfortable seat with no legroom whatsoever, presumably everyone who goes here is a skinny rake), and so could see the whole spectacle.

Now it may be that this is what the Rite of Spring always does to you when seen as a ballet (I have only ever heard concert performances or recordings). But I suspect based on what I have read about the awe in which Pina Bausch’s version is held that this was a bit special. Anyway I was gripped. I just had no idea that ballet could be like this. Pulsating, menacing, primordial, savage and really sexy. I am not sure who was the dancer who played the sacrificial victim (what a chump I am) but she was brilliant.

So if all ballet was like this piece count me in. If all ballet was like the other two pieces then I cannot be converted.

Nederlands Kamerkoor at Cadogan Hall review *****

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Nederlands Kamerkoor: Sacred and Profane

Cadogan Hall, 8th March 2017

  • Britten – Hymn to St Cecilia
  • Gabriel Jackson – Ave Regina caelorum
  • Berio – Cries of London
  • Lars Johan Werle – Orpheus
  • Lars Johan Werle – Canzone 126 di Francesco Petrarca
  • Britten – Sacred and Profane

Another bit of a catch up here. This was so good though that I thought I better say something about it.

This was the latest in an ongoing stroll through the best choirs that pop up in London with BUD who knows where he is at with this sort of caper. Any sensible consumer of classical music will likely eventually conclude that the most versatile and approachable instrument of all is the human voice, with a smallish choir the optimal way to hear it. And the genius composers of the past for such limited, but pure, forces, the likes of Taverner, Tallis, Palestrina, Byrd, Gibbons, Monteverdi and Allegri, are now augmented by some greats from the mid C20 and from the ranks of contemporary composers.

Anyway this outfit, conducted by Peter Dijkstra, were outstanding. The likes of The Sixteen, The Tallis Scholars, The Cardinal’s Musick and so on are a delight to hear but somehow these guys seemed even better to my ear (Cadogan Hall, along with Wigmore Hall and Milton Court are perfect venues for choirs I think). They just had such extraordinary control both individually and collectively.

Now I know the Britten pieces pretty well but it was in the second of the Lars Johan Werle pieces, and especially Berio’s the Cries of London, that the dazzling virtuously of our Dutch friends really came to the fore. The Berio piece takes the sounds of a Medieval market and turns it into a quite extraordinary piece, challenging and beautiful. And the Lars Johan Werle Canzone somehow manages to sound both contemporary and an eerie take on Monteverdi at the same time. I was just blown completely away by this. The Gabriel Jackson piece was not quite of the same quality and had a bloke playing a few licks on an electric guitar harmonising with the choir which didn’t entirely work for me.

So I gather these guys are keen to expand the contemporary repertoire and are keen to commission new works. Sounds like the Dutch government rightly invests in them as well. For sure they now have a couple of 50+ blokes as groupies eagerly awaiting their return to London.

For those of you that are not familiar with contemporary or indeed Renaissance choral music I would strongly urge you to take the plunge. I guarantee that within a few seconds of one of these outfits opening their lungs all the s**t that swirls around your head thanks to modern life being rubbish will evaporate. You really don’t need to know anything about the music.

On my radar there are a few Monteverdi Vespers coming up (including 23rd June Barbican Academy of Ancient Music), The Tallis Scholars at St John’s Smith Square on 30th June, The Cardinal’s Musick 18th July Wigmore Hall and an Estonian Choir next January 30th at Milton Court with a bit of Arvo Part action. Go on treat yourself.