Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Tune! The Takacs Quartet, Sunday 3rd May 2009 , Brighton Festival

To play a Haydn string quartet followed by one by Bartok just five minutes later, requires the kind of technique over which many string quartets will stumble, but the fall might be a valiant one all the same.  The fact that the Takacs played the Bartok C major no 4 - a quartet that requires a tonal understanding at odds (ie.chromaticism) with regular modalities and technical prowess (the central movement is played pizzicato through the full range of dynamics) with greater ease and facility than the classical Haydn (his late F Major op 77 from 1799) is credit to their phenomenal skill and the fact that the quartet has been going since 1975 (albeit with several team changes and one death). 

TheTakacs may now be an international band of musicians, yet the Hungarian folk/classical tradition is embodied by them. The Bartok here was as fresh as a first performance might be imagined in 1927. 

If this quartet were a team of TV chefs - they'd have made a passable light sponge followed by an exemplary and technically advanced souffle  full of exotic and delicious stuff.

Unfortunately, I had a train to catch and missed the second half performance of Schumann's String Quartet in A major Op. 41 No. 3. What a pity as the Takacs are part of the worthy forces pushing Schumann's chamber music back into the spotlight after his glory days in the late nineteenth century where his chamber music was seen as an early herald towards Brahms.

Haydn String Quartet in F major Op. 77 No. 2
Bartok String Quartet in C major, No. 4
Schumann , String Quartet in A major Op. 41 No. 3 (missed)

Monday, 4 May 2009

Dusty Bin, Les Ballets C de la B's Ashes, Brighton Corn Exchange 2nd Mary 09

Ghent-based dance collective, C de la B's new work Ashes, choreographed by Koen Augustijnen was billed as one of the opening highlights of Brighton's 09 festival (curated this year by sculptor Anish Kapoor). 

This was no highlight. A bunch survivors of some un-named catastrophe slowly moved from alienated separation to a kind of wave-like unity with a bit of trampolining on the side.  Surely this kind of dirge would be more suitable at the end of an arts festival? Perhaps one that had incurred some kind of disaster like the ferry connection to the continent being down. In which case we wouldn't have to see it at all. That would be a highlight.

Perversely, Augustijnen chose coluratura Handel arias to accompany his hokum post apocalypse choreography (sung by the singularly good counter tenor Steve Dugardin and soprano Irene Carpentie). Handel's ouevre for contemporary dance was ambushed by American Mark Morris thirty years ago, and anyone bold or foolish enough to make a move on this music will risk instant comparison with a master.

While Morris's moves are humane, witty and moving; Augustijnen's are lumpen, acrobatic and crude.  Noted the use of the roof-like trampoline in Ashes was a welcome distraction from the Bedlam below. Aside: why is repeatedly walking into immovable objects, usually walls, such a trope in so much contemporary dance? It's a cartoonish view of existential frustration. Pina Bausch can get away with this stuff, but then she had her dancers walk into walls in the 1970s. Les Ballets C de la B are still struggling to find the exit in 2009.

I assume Handel was chosen for the marked contrast between the soaring beauty of his baroque sonorites and the flailing movements of the alienated folk below - a point that's made in the first five minutes. It's a point that's made again and again for the next hour and a half. The real star of the show is a young timpanist who sashays between marimba and timpani (incuding gongs and bowed cymbals) with a grace facility patently lacking in the choreography below, which reminded me that the great Diamanda Galas was playing next door and we were stuck in here.