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The lights were just right the sound-checks all checked out and

Posted on 29 September 2010

The lights were just right, the sound-checks all checked out, and the five musicians didn’t hit a dud note all night. Initially, she appeared apprehensive, but, buoyed by the enthusiastic crowd, she gave her all in “Here with Me”, from the No Angel album, which was swiftly followed by “See You When You’re 40″, a song she confessed was a direct attack on someone close to her.The confessional was the theme for the night, and no sooner had Dido finished putting the boot into an old mate than she girlishly told the crowd how “Life for Rent”, the title song of her second album, was the most personal she’d ever written. But that is the enigma of Florian Cloud de Bounevialle Armstrong, the singer who shot to fame on the back of being sampled in Eminem’s single “Stan”, and whose records sell and sell, especially in the US. You either get it or you don’t.
I fall in the latter category. To me, she’s just an ordinary Jo with a quirky voice and heart-tugging songs At the Brixton Academy, though, the penny dropped.

Dido’s popularity, which, to judge from the audience, is driven by a large, hard-core female base, is founded on her ability to write simple songs dealing with everyday emotions that most of us identify with.Dressed in jeans and a red top, Dido was every bit the anonymous girl on the bus, and she gave a no-frills performance that dazzled with its simplicity. If Dido hadstood on stage at the Brixton Academy and not uttered a word, the packed crowd would still have loved it It was unnerving to see such devotion. And the finale’s rather sedate tempo paid off all the way in everything from the deft characterisation of the main theme to the space it helped create for the typically playful touch Brendel applied to the concerto’s very end.. In the second movement, Brendel and Dohnanyi – who is surely a peerless orchestral accompanist – shaped and coloured an unbroken line. A myriad of small details could be savoured here, such as the little lefthand runs in the first movement, shaped to within an inch of caricature; the naughty suggestion of syncopation in the otherwise beautifully effortless flow of the slow movement; and the impetuous way in which he handled the finale’s main theme as it is prefigured in the transition from the second movement to the third.Yet nowhere did one feel that such details were being sacrificed to the symphonic whole. Yet these scarcely detracted from a reading that demonstrated so many of this much-loved pianist’s insights in such core repertoire. And surely the second setting, in which the composer finds the opportunity to indulge his rather peculiar sheep fetish, should be much funnier than it seemed here.As Nicholas Kenyon reminded us in a concluding presentation speech, Brendel is not retiring, even from concerto appearances; he merely wishes, at 73, not to face the microphones, as well as audiences, in live performances any more.

For announcing this, he received an amount of publicity that was remarkable – and in a way heartening in our whizzkid-obsessed culture – for the doyen of a type of Central European intellectual musician whose time seems past.This “Emperor” account showed, in occasional finger slips and, if I’m not mistaken, a brief lapse of memory near the start of the third movement, why Brendel is nervous of those microphones. Or rather, it was Alfred Brendel’s farewell Proms performance, for which occasion he had chosen Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto.
Before that, though, we had Brendel the poet. The texts selected by Harrison Birtwistle for his Three Brendel Settings, here receiving its world premiere, seem to me rather pedestrian and uncertain in tone. But Birtwistle’s music focuses each one with something of his typical flair to offer a simple and satisfactory slow-fast-slow sequence, and the baritone William Dazeley, a Birtwistle specialist, sang them with skill, though neither these settings’ mini-dramas nor their words were projected to maximum effect. But it was the second half of the programme for which a full Albert Hall crowd had come. Dohnanyi shaped the first movement’s second subject, for instance, with understated mastery Yet this performance lacked intensity or risk It was warm, comforting; too safe. Weber, himself an oboist, wrote oboe parts full of deft charm, superbly played by the orchestra’s principal.There was also a real rarity – the First Symphony.

This, too, had some oboistic delights, especially a little rhythmic tag in the scherzo whose continual recurrence always brought a smile. The last two movements were unexpectedly fine, illustrating the fertile mind of the 20-year-old master.But maybe the concert was a bit too long. There was also the Horn Concertino, delicately played by David Pyatt, and the Abu Hassan overture. All sunshine, of course, from this composer who somehow, even when portraying sinister magic bullets and wolf’s glens, always warmed the heart Festival ends 5 September (0131-473 2000).

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