Monday, 4 April 2011

Shakespeare Birthday Show


My friend Arthur Smith has agreed to perform this year’s Shakespeare Birthday performance with me on Bank Holiday Monday 25 April at 2pm in Southwark Cathedral. He is to read the rude bits of the King James Bible, most of them concerning nudity, while I sing Shakespeare lute songs. It’s a free show, so no one can complain if it only lasts half an hour. People like to combine it with a shopping trip to Borough Market.

This will be the tenth performance in a series which began in 2001 and which has covered the sorry life and times of Shakespeare's younger brother Edmund, Shakespeare's successor as playwright of the King's Company John Fletcher and the adventure of the rancid ham, the influence on Shakespeare of the sanctimonious poet John Gower who told Chaucer to cut out the smut. By conrast, we are including as much smut as possible this year.   


CD Review
Manto and Madrigals
Thomas Zehetmair violin, Ruth Killius viola
ECM New Series

Killius plays viola in Zehetmair’s eponymous quartet. Whether she plays here from memory like she has to with the group is unknown, but in the case of Bartok’s Duo, it is the actual score wherein lies beauty. The sleeve contains a picture. The single line of notes is read simultaneously both conventionally and in retrograde inversion (ie backwards and upside down) producing two parts of a quaint, very un-Bartok-like nursery tune. The pair’s straightforward clarity epitomises the disc. The austere organum of the opening O Min flaskan frida by Rainer Killius has Lenten appeal. Scelsi names the weird, futuristic, as yet unfulfilled utterances of his solo viola piece Manto after a Greek prophetess. The violist barks out syllables which ages to come will understand. Scelsi was himself a seer, predicting his own death to the very day. The first of Holliger’s Drei Skizzen is played entirely in harmonics singing like the springs of a suburban railway carriage. The gritty rhythmic intensity of Skalkottas’ Duo is rightly placed at the heart of the disc. You wouldn’t think two instruments were capable of such complex harmony which seems to impart the private intimacies of a long and passionate relationship. Maxwell Davies’ Midhouse Air relieves the heavy atmosphere in a breezy take on a Scottish folk tune with digging bows to mark the dance steps while Martinu’s Three Madrigals sing the sad humour of the exile in New York shut out of his homeland by the European rift following the Second World War. The fascinating programme closes with Nied’s Zugabe, or Encore, in which Zehetmair and Killius seem connected by an umbilical pulse . There isn’t a dud piece on the disc.