Lady Macbeth film review ****


Lady Macbeth, 3rd May 2017

So a bit of an aside first. Went to see that Sense of an Ending at the cinema but never got round to reviewing it. Bit pointless now as it has probably been and gone from all those arthouse cinemas where it might have got a look in. Anyway, an exemplary cast (jim Broadbent, Harriet Walter, Charlotte Rampling, Michele Dockery) showing all those Hollywood chumps how to act and a screenplay by the marvellous Nick Payne based on the Julian Barnes novel. It could not be more British-class-act if it tried. Loved it (in short the past comes back to haunt our lead – shades of 45 Years – another recent Brit-class-act) until the last few minutes. Now I know there is a clue in the title but I still felt deflated by the open ending. Anyway, if and when it hits Netflix, do the decent thing and watch this and not some idiotic blockbuster.

So off to the next Brit-class-act on general release in the theatrically sculpted form of Lady Macbeth. But this time I was accompanied by the expert eye of the SO who has just read Leskov’s novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District on which this is based. I only know the story from the Shostakovich opera and had to quickly remind myself of plot and characters (despite having seen it as recently as Nov 15 at ENO). BTW I note this is going to be revived at the Royal Opera House in 2018, oooh how exciting is that.

Anyway enough of pseuds corner. What happens here. Well bored, “bought” housewife, Katherine, with useless twat of a husband (played by Paul Hilton) and father in law (Christopher Fairbank with that face) has affair with farmhand. So far, so Madame B-Lady C. But then it all goes t*ts up. The screenplay here is by Alice Birch whose anatomy of a suicide (yes small letters) is about to be brought to the Royal Court stage, no doubt in some controversial way, by Katie Mitchell. It cuts most of the last third of book out which is a shame in some ways as there is plenty of plot, general nastiness and psychological insight to be gained there, but, on the other hand, it brings location (C19 NE of England) and its power relationships to the fore and swings us a little bit closer back to the original source of our (anti)-heroine here in Will Shakespeare’s Mrs Macbeth (“it is done” – wait for it). So play, book, opera, film, film – yep there was a film before this as well – mind you trapped woman who breaks all taboos has always fascinated the mostly blokes who wrote this stuff.

It certainly looks the part. Hard to believe this is William Oldroyd’s feature film debut. Muted Hammershoi (look him up) colours, sparsely furnished house interior, crappy weather, windswept moors, Bronte chic. Camera lingering on our Vermeer like leading lady, the outstanding  Florence Pugh (who I adored in Falling), who is the dictionary definition of stultified. And when she breaks out she is utterly convincing and the scenes with lover Sebastian, played by Cosmo Jarvis, are properly passionate. And he, and the maid Anna, superbly played by Naomi Ackie, bring another racial dimension to time, place and events. Very intelligent. Events then accelerate towards the chilling conclusion, with Pugh once again devastating as she goes properly bad.

So all in all a remarkable effort. No need to spend squillions on a film. Just take a classic story, get a stage writer of talent to rework it, a theatre director of insight to think it all through and an inspired cast to bring plot and characters to life, lights, camera, sound, action. Job done. Seek it out and if you don’t catch it on a big screen, then, when it eventually gets to the small screen, do not miss it.


Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos at St John’s Smith Square review ****


Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment: The Brandenburgs

St John’s Smith Square, 2nd May 2017

Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 1
Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 3
Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 5
Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 4
Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 6
Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 2

JS Bach. Tick. Brandenburg Concertos. Tick. Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Tick. St John’s Smith Square. Tick.

What’s not to like. Might as well just stop there. A superb period ensemble with some of Europe’s finest instrumental specialists playing a series of the finest works of the Baroque age.

However, there is always something new to be found in the Brandenburgs and so it was this evening. With excellent harpsichord (Steven Devine) and cello (Luise Buchberger) continuo lines and a bit of double bass action when required from Ceccelia Bruggemeyer, and with one instrument to each part, we could focus on the key contributions of individual players/instruments: in No 1 Huw Daniel on the violino piccolo (yep that’s a tiddly violin), Katharina Spreckelsen on flute and the two horns of Roger Montgomery and Nicholas Benz: in No 5 on the violin of Huw Daniel now standing in for Pavlo Beznosiuk, and its interplay with the flute of Lisa Beznosiuk  and the harpsichord cadenza of Steven Devine: in No 4 Huw Daniel’s violin again and the recorders of Rebecca Miles and Ian Wilson; and in No 6 the same violinist and recorder with the oboe again played by Katharina Spreckelsen and the F trumpet of David Blackadder (how on earth does he do that – its just a tube of old metal with holes in!!). Nos 3 and 6 are the all string affairs but in No 6, Simone Jandl and Max Mandel made a mighty racket on their violas.

Now I confess I can bounce between period (Pinnock, Hogwood) and modern recorded versions of the Brandenburgs (with a special fondness for Benjamin Britten’s conducting) but in concerts period is best (and pretty much the only option these days). And this was properly raw and thrilling. For those who have never heard a period horn, trumpet or recorder, get up close and embrace the vitality and skill. It is a tricky business making these things do what you want but when it all falls into place the energy is palpable. The quality of the instruments, the skill of the players and the depth of the scholarly advance over the last couple of decades means you are now really hearing all these scores as (probably) they were intended. If I had to pick out a couple of faves it would be No 6 with the aforementioned violas offset by the grumbling gambas and the violone (a little double bass) and the oboe/trumpet/recorder combo in No 2. .

The excellent OAE programme (a numpty like me learns a lot from these which do not assume too much but neither are they patronising or just biographical) reminds us that these now ubiquitous works started as a speculative venture by JSB for a customer, the Margrave of Brandenburg (I would love to be a Margrave if  had to be a Continental European aristo), who never bothered to look at them. What a silly Margrave. The reason why the Brandenburgs are so popular and wonderful is because they have all the brilliant, diverse yet condensed musical ideas that JSB excelled at, but they also deliver the tunes and the visceral, show-offy excitement that the best of the Italian baroque supplies.

So I say if you are a newcomer to the classical world (this blog is aimed at you), ignore all those miseries who would have you listening to the endless droning on from the likes of Strauss, Mahler and Bruckner and get down instead with the funky muthas that are JSB and Vivaldi. And if you are anywhere near Manchester or Cheltenham they will be bringing this to you in the next few days.