Raymond Soltysek's Blog

Glastonbury 2015

Posted in Festival review, Music review by raymondsoltysek on July 1, 2015
Glasto!

Glasto!

So that was Glastonbury.  My second year, and although I wasn’t really that excited about the line-up, it ended up a damned fine weekend with some absolutely star turns.

Of course, the whole event is a big, bloated theme park.  For all the goodwill – and there is, with political activist, peace and green groups to the fore – it’s still just one big, self-indulgent, hedonistic splurge.  It amazes me how wasteful and inconsiderate huge crowds can be; ‘Love Worthy Farm, ‘ we are asked, ‘Leave No Trace’, and that’s a message that’s lost within about thirty minutes, judging by the discarded beer cans and half-eaten fast food that end up carpeting the fields. Bin it, guys!

But it’s about the music, so here goes:

1. Amy – the new film about Amy Winehouse. A  lovely intimate documentary biopic from the maker of ‘Senna’, but not much added to the accepted rhetoric of a life wasted by insecurity and indulgence and by weak, selfish men, some who were close to her and some who only knew her through a lens. Well worth a watch even if, like me, you weren’t into her music that much.
2. Martha Tilston – lovely woman with great values and a wonderful voice.  Great to see her again and an excellent start.
3. Michael Clark Company – bonkers dance group.  Say no more.  One of my Facebook friends who has danced with them asked what music they used; ‘they like Bowie and Iggy Pop,’ she said – yep, both were on the bill…
4. Raghu Dixit – Lovely to catch a wee bit of him filling in on the West Holts stage. Such a charismatic happy band. Third time I’ve seen him live and he always makes me smile
5. Steve Knightley – Red hot protest folk with a good audience of fans who know all the words.  ‘Country Life’ and ‘Galway Farmer’ are fantastic. My pal Gordon’s recommendation, and a good one too.
6. Catfish and the Bottlemen – so-so.  I was expecting a bit more but found myself wandering off.  They were on The Other Stage, though, which is about the most soulless and most dirty.
7. Benjamin Booker – not what I was expecting.  Tough, hard guitar.  Feedback, it seems, is definitely in this year.
8. Sharon van Etten – impeccable and lovely.  Brilliant lass.  Another I’ve seen recently and was happy to see again.
9. Christy Moore – nails ‘Ride On’ and ‘The First time’.  A real troubadour.
10. The Unthanks – Clog dancing to utterly gorgeous orchestration – who’da thunk it?
11. Courtney Barnett – brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Relentless poetry of everyday life AND stonking riffs: cool as fuck.
12. Sinkane  – starts off cool African jazz funk that is very danceable, but goes off the boil to generic licks.
13. Gregory Porter – simply The Man.  In a Hat.
14. Vintage Trouble – there is NO better live band.  Ty Taylor blows Glastonbury off the map, crowd surfing from the stage to the lighting rig and delivering two numbers from 30 feet up.  This band is genius for the way they package their music.  As a live experience, easily 12 out of 10.
15. I Am Kloot – wonderful.  A band I sort of know – but having now seen them live, I intend to get right into them.  But for the right image and a break or two, they could be headlining the festival. Beautiful song writing that matches any Brit rock outfit you care to name.
16. Songhoy Blues – delivers the clean, clear desert blues I though Sinkane might.  Lovely stuff.
17. Hozier – the requisite amount of tousledness to win the ‘Van Morrison when he was fuckable’ impression award.  Spot on vocals, but he’s come from the BBC Introducing stage to The Pyramid in a year on the back of one song, and the lack of depth is a bit apparent.  Too soon, lad, too soon.
18. Patti Smith – accompanied by the Dalai Lama.  Freaky but just about the most monumental experience of my musical life.  Awesome.  Fucking awesome.
19. The Bevis Frond – a wee psychedelic band that’s influenced such biggies as Teenage Fanclub.  We spend half an hour watching these old blokes.  The lead singer looks like the less handsome brother of Phil Harding (the archaeologist from Time Team) and talks like a Wurzel, but he sings and plays guitar like a rock god.  Bloody brilliant.
20. Alt-J – sweet sound, but washes over me.  ‘Left Hand Free’ actually sounds shockingly bland compared to the raw guts of the recorded track.   Bail early.
21. Lianne la Havas – sweet lass, but washes over me.  Wasn’t helped by the wanker in front of me who arrived half way through and proceeded to bellow at his pals about why he had to buy a fish earring to replace the feather he lost, and why he changed his gym to one more ‘rad’.
22. Death Cab for Cutie – not bad at all.  Slick and danceable indie.  Will listen more.
23. The Who – well, I saw them.  They were fine in the sense that they trotted out all the hits I wanted to sing along to in a very professional manner, and the backing singers did a grand job of filling in the strangled bits of Roger’s once perfect rock voice.  Glad I saw them.

Oh, and one song from Billy Bragg – ‘Between the Wars’. My absolute favourite just as I was passing the Leftfield tent and he was finishing his set.  Always makes me tear up, that gorgeous, gorgeous song.

I also had my annual overdose of falafel (I reckon my mum could have done just as well with a packet of Paxo), so am feeling healthy and culturally uplifted now that my poor wee tired feet are recovering.  Roll on next year.

Things wot I’ve been up to…

Posted in Music review, Publications, Reading review, Theatre review by raymondsoltysek on May 4, 2015

I’ve stopped blogging reviews of gigs I go to – so much effort – but in the spirit of reminding myself of where I’ve been and what I’ve done so that I can remind myself in the nursing home where I was in my youth (!), here’s what I’ve been up to so far this year.

Prides, Liquid Room, 7/2/15: Prides were one of my favourite discoveries in 2014. Once more, their slick electro-pop is brilliant. Big, big anthems and a heaving, appreciative crowd. A great night out!

‘Love is Strange’ , GFT, 15/2/15: Yes it’s a bit contrived, idealistic and features unnecessary skateboarding – but ‘Love is Strange’ is quite beautiful. The quiet dignity and unshakability of the love between Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) is poignant and uplifting. Their tragedy is ordinary and hateful and heart-breaking. Loved it.

Rally & Broad, Stereo, 22/2/15: Excellent stuff curated by Jenny Lindsay and Rachel McCrum. Top marks go to Harry Stiles for redefining Scots language, Rose Ruane for redefining everything, Genessee for the most beautiful cover of ‘Teardrops’ I’ve ever heard and The Jellyman’s Daughter for some of the best harmonies since The Civil Wars.

Twelve Angry Men, 28/2/15: Some hammy moments and some dodgy American accents, but still a wonderfully plotted classic of 1950s liberal drama. Tom Conti plays Tom Conti really well.

Coves, Nice-n-Sleazy, 8/3/15: mmm… took a chance, let down immensely. The band is okay, the lead singer is okay – but the mix doesn’t work. Soft pop vocals are lost in a grunge backdrop – I’m always suspicious of a girl in an LBD fronting a double denim clad band. We bail early…

Graham Fulton Book Launch, 14/3/15: yet more fantastic stuff from one of my favourite poets; ye cannae get enough of Graham Fulton. Check out Photographing Ghosts – it’s brilliant!

Glasgow Orchestral Society, 23/3/15, Royal Conservatoire: lovely programme including Brahms, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky. A stunning young conductor and violin soloist playing with a damned fine amateur orchestra, including my pal Lynsey.

Sofar Edinburgh, 1/4/15: Lovely living-room gig from contemporary trad group Dowally and singer-songwriter Annie Booth. Star of the show though is the wistful and sweet Bec Sandridge; see her here.

Vintage Trouble, O2 ABC, 3/4/15: Ty Taylor is phenomenal, easily the most charismatic lead singer I’ve seen. Sexy, witty, full-on fun. Great as the rest of the band is, I can see him ploughing a lone furrow soon; it would be a shame, but this guy’s too big for anybody.

2015-04-13 23.24.13

Me and my pal Nadine…

Nadine Shah, King Tut’s, 14/4/15: gig of the year so far. Shah is fabulous; her 2014 single ‘Stealing Cars’ is a thing of real beauty, and she herself oozes charm and cheekiness. Spent so much time chatting to her I forgot to get her to sign my LP; an absolute delight and a lovely, generous lass.

The Districts, King Tut’s, 30/4/15: Good head down boogie in the style of Boy & Bear. An excellent, energetic band. Their encore, ‘Young Blood’ is a 9 minute epic.

And then seven new Munros, with many more to come. At least all this walking is keeping my alcohol consumption well under control..

Handel’s Messiah, RSNO, GRCH, 3/1/15

Posted in Music review by raymondsoltysek on January 15, 2015

An absolute delight. Handel’s Messiah was one of my first ever record purchases, ordered from Readers’ Digest for me by my mum. I think I paid her back 50p a week from my pocket money, but that probably lasted about three weeks before I forgot…

I’ve heard it live a few times, but always in a devotional setting, like Paisley Abbey (twice). That adds emotive appeal – even for an old atheist like me – but the acoustics are never right; all those high vaulted arches just suck up the sound. So hearing it in the Concert Hall was a real treat, where all the singers and the orchestra and the chorus are all in the right place acoustically. As a result, it sounds fabulous.

Star turns for me are Sophie Bevan, a beautiful soprano who raises the hairs on the back of my neck with ‘I know that my redeemer liveth’, and Alan Clayton’s ‘Every valley shall be exalted’; they’re my favourite tunes, and neither disappoints. Claire Wilkinson (whose mezzo-soprano is perhaps a little lost in the big mix) and baritone George Humphreys are excellent too. The orchestra and chorus are spot on. Conductor Laurence Cummings also plays harpsichord, which was a little confusing visually, and I would like to have heard the instrument a little more, but he’d done a brilliant job. Of course, the Hallelujah chorus is spine-tingling, and the finale – Worthy is the Lamb – is just thunderous.

A grand day out.

‘Mistaken for Strangers’

Posted in film review, Gig review, Music review by raymondsoltysek on February 27, 2014
mfs-poster

Mistaken for Strangers

The National are, let’s face it, the biggest, bestest band on the planet right now.  I’ve only seen them once, at the O2 ABC in 2007, just after ‘Boxer’ had been released and ‘Fake Empire’ had become one of my favourite horny songs ever (I mean the horn section, not sex).   I’ve got tickets to see them at The Usher Hall in July (so keen, I bought them twice); since ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ is probably my favourite album of the last few years, it’s gonna be a gas

In the meantime, this documentary about their 2013 tour will have to do. Made by Matt Berninger’s brother, it’s less of a tour rockumentary than a touching portrait of two brothers’ relationship.  Berninger invited brother Tom on tour to make the film, and there’s definitely a sense of the successful big brother giving the stoner wee brother something to do to keep him out of the way of the buses.  Nine years younger, Tom is obviously in awe of his focussed, driven sibling’s success, even though he’s a ‘metalhead and thinks indie rock is shit.’

In my lifetime, I’ve met hundreds of wee boys who have been told they are the best, the most talented, the most quick-witted and funny and artistic boys ever (usually while their sisters toil their way unappreciated to success) and their lack of direction and purpose is just down to being misunderstood.  I’m no success story, but at least my mum kept my feet on the ground:  “well, you could have done better if you’d worked harder,” she said when I told her on the phone that I’d got a 2.2 in my degree.  Thing was, she was absolutely right, I was a lazy bastard –  I’d spent my final year playing pool and skipped all but a handful of lectures and tutorials – and there was no way she was letting me weave any tales about being an unappreciated genius.

There’s a whiff of that about charming, feckless Tom, who fucks up his simple job as a roadie and gets himself chucked off the tour because  he can’t seem to do anything right; but, dammit, he is so likeable you’ll forgive him anything.  He is obviously a pretty crap filmmaker if his short low budget slashers are anything to go by and, confronted by a wall of post-its, he’s obviously out of his depth; his sister-in-law is credited with joint editing.   But then again, this is a carefully constructed film, and so there are legitimate questions about the extent to which the narrator we see is a construct.

It’s well worth the watch.  The band come across as laconic yet purposeful, professional family men indulgent of the boyish camera being poked in their faces but nevertheless having clear expectations (‘I thought this was a film about the band and you were going to ask about me,’ says one of the Dessners, ‘but it seems all you want to do is talk about you and Matt.’).  There are no wild revelations –  you sense Tom desperately wants the drug-fuelled metal orgy, and it’s a lovely little touch that his big brother gives him a row for partying so hard he’s the one to miss  the tour bus – but these excesses probably wouldn’t cut it nowadays for a band that tours as hard as they do.  And I doubt the music would be so beautiful if they were stoned most of the time.

The film is followed by two local college bands.  Oakland Moor are a Americana tinged outfit who can write a song –  their opener is really listenable – though trying to cover the vocal perfection of The Civil Wars is perhaps a bit too exuberantly ambitious.  Silver Falls are 80% female and cut from the same folksy cloth,  producing some nice harmonies. However, when both bands proudly announce they’re covering songs from ‘The Hunger Games’ soundtrack, you know (a) where they’re coming from culturally and (b) that you’re getting too old.

National Collective Glasgow Launch Party, 10/10/13

Posted in Independence, Music review, Reading review by raymondsoltysek on October 13, 2013

nc party

A fab, vibrant wee event to celebrate the launch of National Collective Glasgow. 

All the acts listed above gave their time and their talent free in order to entertain a crowd of around 200, who had a whale of a time.  Shambles Miller started proceedings off with that wry style of his, including “Rapture” a song that is gorgeous in its sadness  while being about a guy intent on getting his leg over the girl of his dreams as the Apocalypse approaches.   Leo Condie then  blew Mono away with his repertoire of Brel and Brecht songs.  I love Brel, and Leo’s barnstorming, acrobatic, bonkers ‘Amsterdam’ was just brilliant – and I got to take part too! 

A couple of surprise guests turned up too.  Biggest cheer of the night went to Liz Lochead for a  bravura performance of Corbie’s speech from ‘Mary Queen of Scots got her Head Chopped Off”.  Lochead has been turning out fantastic live performances for decades, and it was a real privilege to have the Scots Makar’s presence.  Eleanor Morton did a set too, and while she had to compete with a noisy bar area that wouldn’t shut up (come on guys, bit of respect for the artist there…) she was just great.  She has that awkward geekiness of the socially inept down to a tee, and her two musical numbers were hilarious.  What sounded like a teenager’s angst-laden You Tube cry to the world was turned on its head beautifully with a simple “I call that song ‘PacMan'” at the end.  Her ‘I’m Really Good at Clubbing’ was a riot, a beautifully paced evisceration of the desperation we all feel when we don’t quite fit in when we really, really want to.  She was a star.

I know of at least two people who came along skeptics and went away converts to the cause.  If every one in the audience goes out into the big wide world and convinces just three others, and they each then convert three more – well, 2014 might just be one of the best years ever.

Things to see at Celtic Connections 2013.

Posted in Music review by raymondsoltysek on December 24, 2012

Finally got round to booking some of my annual Celtic Connections gigs.  The line up is larger than ever – but, to be honest, nothing absolutely jumped out at me.  However, I’m sure I’ll have fun.

link to Carminho.net

Carminho

First up is Vicente Amigo,  the Spanish flamenco artist and composer described by Pat Metheny as the greatest guitarist alive.  This, for example, is fabulous.  Should be good, especially as he’s supported by yet another fadista to go gaga at:  Carminho is 27 and the latest big thing in fado.  I have her breakthrough album, and she’s excellent – though I don’t respond to her music the way I do to Ana Moura or Deolinda or Misza.  It feels just a little too trad for me – but it’s another to tick off, my first fadista of the year, and there’s no doubting she has oodles of charisma when she sings something like “A Bia Da Mouraria“.  To be honest, I’d love to go on holiday to Lisbon some time this year and trawl the fado bars: perhaps I’ll try to time it to coincide with Deolinda’s new album and get to hear them showcase it in their home town.

After that, I’m hitting The Roaming Roots Review, largely because it’s packed with lots of goodies I’ve seen over the last couple of years:  the barnstorming Lau; the Fabulous Beth Orton; the drop dead beautiful Gemma Hayes.  They’ll be some other goodies too: Roddie Hart produces some nice folk pop, and Amy Helm sounds good fun.

Then, if I can get the booking sorted, I want to see the sultry Cowboy Junkies.  The online booking system seems a mess this year: it didn’t automatically deduct my 15% member’s discount, then gave me one wheelchair ticket for the Junkies and didn’t tell me I could have had two standing tickets.  They’ll phone me back.  I hope I get to see them: Margo Timmins is one of the most effortlessly sexy singers, and they produce gorgeous, tight music, including one of the best Elvis covers ever in their version of “Blue Moon“. It’ll be a blast from the past.

Then a night of Sahara Soul, especially to see Bassekou Kouyate with N’Goni Ba.  I saw them in 2009, and it was my joint gig of the year.  The n’goni is a fantastic instrument, looking like a four-stringed cricket bat you’d make in the garden shed; in the hands of these guys, it produces some of the most exciting music I’ve ever heard.  Check this out. I’ve deliberately chosen the standing section at the Royal Concert Hall because dancing will be obligatory.

John Fullbright

John Fullbright

Finally, for now, every Celtic Connections must have a bit of Americana, so I’m off to see Otis Gibbs and John Fullbright at the Glasgow Art Club.  Gibbs is a grizzled Steve Earle type, while Fullbright looks even more interesting.  In his early twenties, he looks a great musician and songwriter, and may well be my find of the Festival.

So all in all, there’s plenty to keep me occupied.  Unfortunately, some of the biggies are already booked out: I’d have loved to see Bellowhead, and the Transatlantic session with Mary Chapin Carpenter, Eric Bibb and Aoife O’Donovan would have been excellent, but I wasn’t quick enough off the mark.  I’m also a little disappointed at the number of concerts in the seated venues:  The Old Fruitmarket is one of my favourite venues because you can get a good jig on, but there’s nothing on there I really want to see.

However, it’s a good start to 2013, and, if I’d made it to Kazakhstan, I wouldn’t be seeing any of it…

Are The Civil Wars breaking up?

Posted in Music review by raymondsoltysek on November 6, 2012

Happier Times for The Civil Wars

Well, perhaps the lack of sparkle I noted at The Civil Wars gig last Friday was understandable.  Joy Williams and John Paul White have just announced on Facebook that their tour – which began only on the 24th October and was supposed to last two months – is over, and it sounds as if the end may be nigh…

“We sincerely apologize for the canceling of all of our tour dates. It is something we deeply regret. However, due to internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition we are unable to continue as a touring entity at this time. We thank each and every one of you for your amazing love & support. Our sincere hope is to have new music for you in 2013.

– Joy Williams & John Paul White.

PS – We understand that there are many of you stuck with service charges and travel reservations due to our abrupt cancelations. Please email us at info@thecivilwars.com if there are costs incurred that you would like to be reimbursed for, include a scan or attachment to your receipt(s) of the costs, and we will do our best to reimburse you for non-refundable charges.”

That’s a real shame, because in their short time together, White and Williams have created some stunning music that captivated the public imagination by being melodic and heartfelt and way off the beaten track.  In their video tour diaries, over and over again they speak of wanting to sing  together for years and years – but things have obviously not been right.  Whatever has happened, it seems to have been recent and sudden. Who knows?  The pressure of touring, Williams’ pregnancy… it has all been intense for them, constantly in the public eye as their popularity grew exponentially.  It’s sweet of them to acknowledge that devotion they’ve inspired by offering to pay booking fees and additional costs; how may bands would do that?

One thing that always irritated me was the prurience of the fan base who saw in their closeness something that they have always said wasn’t there, and speculated to high heaven about their relationship.  Both married to other people, one wonders if that barely concealed pressure added to the differences.  I hope not.

Anyway, if they plan to release a new album in 2013, I reckon it’ll be a miracle; do any bands ever survive “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition”?  However, “Barton Hollow” will become a little classic, and I can thoroughly recommend that you download their free live album, “Live at Eddie’s Attic” – that is, if their website comes back online.

It’ll be a pity if we lose them and their lovely music.

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WOMAD 2012: supporting face painters for 30 years…

Posted in Gig review, Music review, World music by raymondsoltysek on July 30, 2012

The Soul Rebels

Well, that was my first WOMAD festival, and a grand time I had too.  Loved it.  The crowd was relatively cultivated: I’d heard all about the T in the Park piss bombers the previous week. For some reason, the idea of being drenched in someone’s else’s urine kinda puts me off a bit;  especially a stranger’s urine, but that’s another far stranger  story…

Of course, the place was awash with some weird and wonderful New Age shit, with more Tchai and Reiki than you could throw a seven chakra crystal healing stick at.  Just what the fuck is Gong Therapy anyway?  One of my Facebook pals accused me of visiting a Thai massage parlour;  chance would be a fine thing…

I’ve no idea why WOMAD has become so enmeshed with all this stuff.  Of course, I am an almost total skeptic (though I may tell you about my NLP squirrel experience sometime) but am happy to leave folk to do and believe whatever turns them on – unless they want to damn me to eternal hellfire for not believing what they do, that is.  However, just what relevance has this stuff to the dispossessed of the favelas, or the starving of East Africa, or the war ravaged of sub-Saharan Africa?  None, I reckon.  To me, it should be about those cultures, those people and their music, not the idiosyncracies of western folk with too much time on their hands.

I do like this festival thingy, jumping about from band to band like a real life skip button.  I see and hear a lot, bit and pieces here and there.  I arrive in enough time to catch The Soul Rebels from New Orleans, a big brass band sound that is funky and tight.  They do a fantastic version of “Sweet Dreams“, and remind me a lot of a band I was really into years ago, the Rebirth Brass Band.  Cool.

I catch most of The Wilderness of Manitoba, a Canadian band that eschew the tradition of a lead singer for close harmonies.  The result reminds me a bit of Chatham County Line or Crooked Still: mannered, interesting, sweet Americana that kind of washes over me.  Not really a visceral experience, but worth a listen to.  Hollie Cook is young and sweet and wriggling out of her dress with sheer vivacity, but I’ve never been a ska or reggae fan, so it’s another that I bail early on.

I manage about three minutes of Maga Bo, a Brazilian / American DJ.  The crowd is too young for me, and the bass is up so high I’m convinced my kidneys will explode.  However, more than that, it’s just that a guy behind a laptop just doesn’t inspire me to get involved in the show, which is the problem I also have with The Portico Quartet.  I have their latest album, and the track “Ruins” is a thing of real ambient beauty.  But four guys who end up playing with their knobs onstage, so to speak, doesn’t really do it for me.  Pretentious?  Les?

The Correspondents

The Correspondents, despite having a laptop knob twiddler called Chucks, are a different matter.  I’m tired and only manage half of their show, but their über-camp glam-swing is so infectious it draws a massive crowd around the smallest stage on site, largely due to the Mael-like vocals and irrepressible whirlygig dancing of  lead singer Mr Bruce.  Infectious, danceable, watchable and I’d love to see more.  Vadoinmessico are a multi-continental psychedelic folk band who I had on my list but who kind of disappoint, perhaps because I saw them after Raghu Dixit (more of him in a later post).  They set up some interesting and energetic percussive rhythms which then dissipate during quiet and fairly understated vocals.

I catch a bit of Jimmy Cliff and Robert Plant.  Yes, gods, I know, and what they do is slick and tight.  However, quite frankly, it feels just a little tired and traditional to me.  Khaled is interesting, but again, there’s a slickness about it that just knocks the edges off, and I like my edges a lot of the time.

I’ll do individual entries for the main acts I saw over the next few days.  Many were good, some were great and a few were outstanding.  So, yes, I’m off next year, all things willing…

Sacred Music: the Story of Allegri’s Miserere, BBC 4, 18/5/12

Posted in Art, Media review, Music review by raymondsoltysek on May 18, 2012
Link to the sixteen

Elin Manhan Thomas, The Sixteen choir

I’ve just watched a lovely BBC4 documentary on Allegri’s “Miserere”, that most mysterious piece of devotional music that was held like a state secret by the Vatican for so long.  Simon Russell Beale tells its story, and then The Sixteen, a cool choir led by Harry Christophers I’ve never come across before, deliver a spellbinding performance.

Like magnificent cathedrals and devotional masterpieces on the walls of luxurious religious palaces, I baulk at the idea of such beauty being owned by the corrupt bureaucrats of organised, brutalised religions: I can’t think of anyone who deserves access to this wonder less than a privileged, self-serving clergy who fatten themselves on the patronage of the rich while failing to give a shit about the poor; to claim this genius as your own is as perverse as the notion of land ownership or the disappearance of masterpieces of art into the private collections of billionaire criminal oligarchs or the corporate patenting of DNA.  And let’s not forget that they were happy to castrate boys to sing this,  and that  if it hadn’t been for the sneakiness of Mozart and Mendelssohn,  this would still be locked in the Sistine Chapel.

But that is what the world is, damn it.  Plebeians like me can only drop our jaws in wonder at what the rich take for granted as their entitlement.  And this is jaw dropping, and those four bars containing the high C – so wondrously sung by  Elin Manhan Thomas   – are the most jaw dropping of all.  I don’t believe in God – cannot believe in God – but I envy the music and art and architecture men have created and have had created in His praise.

I wonder how beautiful the world would be if all that ingenuity had been devoted to man instead of myth.

Berlioz: “Te Deum” & Symanowski: “Stabat Mater” / Paisley Abbey, 21/4/12

Posted in Music review by raymondsoltysek on April 22, 2012
link to Paisley Abbey

Paisley Abbey

Despite being a  raving atheist – occasionally, literally – I have a great fondness for Paisley Abbey.  At about five, I was taken to see the Queen plant a tree in its grounds, then  grew up going to music lessons in Paisley on a Saturday morning, went out on the town with my pals as a teenager and then finally  worked and moved there in the early 90’s.  Paisley has changed enormously in that time.  I have vague recollections of the magnificent old prison that stood on the site of a now almost redundant shopping mall; I saw the monstrous, brutalist council offices go up, one of the blocks now demolished for yuppy homes and the other softened with 21st century ash floors and atriums; I’ve seen the centre pedestrianised and de-pedestrianised and pedestrianised again.  None of the changes, it seems to me, have done anything to improve Paisley, a town blighted by unemployment and social disadvantage that can’t sustain a good bookshop or top class restaurant but has empty civic aspirations to be a “city”; and yet it has some beautiful architecture, including churches like The Coates Memorial that would grace any nation’s capital.  Throughout all those changes, the Abbey seemed as permanent as a geological structure, even as the area around it was tinkered with granite paving and the ancient graveyard was made respectable.

I also have good memories of playing there, in my younger days as a flute player and then as a teacher and woodwind instructor for Renfrewshire Schools Orchestras (I was neither a very good player nor teacher, to be honest).  It’s the scene, too, of my one and only Christmas midnight Mass, when my ex-partner and I took her children along for us all to try to get some sense of what it was really all about, and I confess that in some darker moments over the last thirty years, I’ve slipped in there, not for the religion but for the peace and quiet to think.

But tonight is a pal’s nicht oot to see the City of Glasgow Chorus (including our friend Michael Inglis) and the Orchestra of Scottish Opera do their thing with a couple of heavyweight religious compositions.

The Szymanowski, despite being “modern”, works well; there’s a muscularity about it, especially Quis et homo which thunders out from the nave.  It’s sung in Latin rather than the original Polish, which is probably a good idea, and the soloists are all fine singers.  It may be the long, narrow acoustics (the back of the chorus must be a good fifty or sixty feet away from the conductor) or my less-than-ideal seating position, but the mezzo-soprano, Úna McMahon, and the baritone, Benjamin Weaver, tend to get a little overpowered at times, while the soprano, Maria Kozlova, has the register to counteract that effect.  In addition, the sound seems to come at the audience in great, dramatic lumps.  It is, however, totally accessible and, in some places, infused with an austere Eastern European beauty.

The Berlioz is typically romantic, with reflective, occasionally gloomy prayers counterpointed with sparkling hymns.  When it’s huge, it’s very, very huge, particularly in the celebratory glory of Christe Rex gloriae.  The soloist, fine tenor Jonathan Cooke, does his one moment in the spotlight, Te ergo quaesumus, appropriate justice.  The final hymn, Judex crederis, is typical Berlioz, with a big finish immediately followed by a “let’s do it all again” moment.

I’m not a classical aficionado by any means – I lost my ear for it many years ago – but this is a very pleasant evening of excellent musicians playing lovely music in a beautiful setting.   I hear an audience member say, “The tedium will last about an hour, I take it?”; thankfully, it was nothing like that at all.

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