Wednesday, 24 July 2013

From the diary of Virginia Woolf, Wigmore Hall

Part of a 'Perspectives' series curated by the pianist Julius Drake, this recital was an augmented single span taking all its words from the diary of Virginia Woolf. The central cycle was Dominic Argento's From the Diary of Virginia Woolf of 1974 performed by Drake with Sarah Connolly. Beside them Fiona Shaw read further extracts selected (and lightly staged) by Kate Kennedy, a Cambridge English Professor specialising in Modernist English literature and music.

The last time I heard the cycle was in a final recital ten years ago. High calibre performers then failed to lift it from the page or stage; despite the ascetic circumstances of the performances I felt that the blame should be partly ascribed to the piece. Here - ironically 'despite' the world class of the performers - I felt that the effectiveness of the eight song cycle was down to the obscure riches of the piece, exposed not so much through interpretation as clarity of presentation. Fiona Shaw's demonstrative reading of pertinent diary extracts interpolated between the songs was part of this exercise in illuminating the texts, particularly effective in highlighting the humour near the surface of the diaries. Of course, everything felt quite at home in the decorous art deco interior of Wigmore Hall.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Gregg Edelman, Crazy Coqs London

Just before the weekend I caught another set at Crazy Coqs, the (newish) cabaret bar that's bar of the Brasserie Zedel complex just off Piccadilly Circus. The multiple Tony-nominated actor Gregg Edelman had come over to sing a selection of Broadway numbers from the centre ground of the tradition of the Great White Way.

This was a exemplary evening of compering and performing, in the style one would expect sitting in some dowtown NY bar any given night of the week. Inbetween numbers by Lerner & Lowe, Sondheim and Kander & Ebb there were stories from his performing experience and introductions to the songs. We were even party to a little tale of his visiting Fred Ebb's brownstone where a mesmerising morning's singalong culminated in the composer John Kander writing a song specially for Edelman. This is the joy of an evening such as this - that one is invited to bear witness to the incremental growth of the Broadway/American Songbook tradition through the actual personalities and practitioners passing on the songs themselves.

Edelman was joined at the piano by a London based pianist, James Church, who was playing well-judged arrangements of the songs; the duo did a great job of finessing a performance that, as these things are, was probably put together on minimal rehearsal.