LCO at Village Underground: The Times review ★★★★

Wednesday 30 June 2010
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Geoff Brown
Wednesday 30 June 2010

Imagine that you’re fairly short, wearing a long dress and holding a precious violin. Would you want to reach the raised performance platform by jumping? Full marks, then, to Charlotte Bonneton, a soloist in this Spitalfields Festival concert, for never coming a cropper – and for playing with such gusto, though that was a mark of everyone in the London Contemporary Orchestra, dedicated to the new, the recent, and the cross-cultural.

The culture crossed here was film, represented by the Brothers Quay, those unique purveyors of puppet animation puzzles bedecked with more vintage European angst, more decrepit dolls and gizmos, than is really good for sanity. We saw their masterly Street of Crocodiles from 1983, sprung from a story by the Polish writer Bruno Schulz.

The cries and whispers of Lech Jankowski’s score and Larry Sider’s sound design were expanded by a live string trio and piano. But the Quays’ imaginings took such a hold that the players’ haunting bits and bobs quickly sank into the general mix – the best artistic outcome possible. Even the funky venue seemed part of the film: part disused viaduct, part abandoned warehouse, with four decommissioned Tube carriages perched on the roof.

More East European modernism arrived with the disjointed style games of Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No 1. Bonneton and her violin colleague Daniel Pioro fiddled their fingers almost to the bone, while prepared piano, harpsichord and strings plinked out sad melodic fragments. The furious panache of the LCO’s performance, expertly channelled by the conductor Hugh Brunt, was overwhelming.

European surrealism vanished for the tremolos, buzzes, and flying melodies of Zipangu by the gifted French-Canadian composer Claude Vivier, who was murdered in Paris in 1983 at the age of 34. Frenzied patches suggested improvisation. But no: Brunt’s conducting of every bar, from the opening buzzing bass line to the sudden consonant end assertive, was graceful, just like the music. Wonderful.

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