Xuefei Yang - Wigmore Hall, 16 April 2008
Handel's Flavio - Barbican, 17 April 2008
Goldfrapp - Royal Festival Hall, 18 April 2008
Out of the 800+ events in the China Now cultural festival taking place in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, few are musical. Does this say something about the place of music in Chinese culture? At the Wigmore Hall on Wednesday, the deodorant-ad blandness of the Chinese music which dominated guitarist Xuefei Yang's recital programme suggested there's not much to shout about. Her immaculate technique was wasted on the limp, westernised folk song arrangements. OK, so there's not much of a concert repertoire for the classical guitarist, but Fei's own arrangements of piano music by Granados and Albeniz, tucked away at the tail end of the evening, indicated a more imaginative way forward.
I don't often walk out of a concert at the interval, but one hour of Handel's Flavio at the Barbican on Thursday was enough. Soloists Iestyn Davies, Karina Gauvin, James Gilchrist, James Rutherford, Robin Blaze and Maite Beaumont were on fire, but every ounce of energy they put in was sucked out by Christopher Hogwood's tepid, routine direction of the Academy of Ancient Music. More like a funeral than an opera.
Goldfrapp brought a bit of olde England to the Royal Festival Hall on Friday, with band (including harpist) and twelve piece string section in all-white morris dancer kit, mic stands dressed as mini-maypoles and a giant wicker backdrop. Alison herself was half Twiggy, half Demis Roussos, in a pink satin mini-caftan with matching modesty shorts and flat tan pixie boots. The window dressing reflects the pastoral whimsy of their latest album, which featured heavily, alongside oldies Utopia, Paper Bag, You Never Know, Satin Chic, Ooh La La, Number One, and Strict Machine. Alison chivvied us out of our comfy seats and on to our well-behaved feet for the last few songs. And there was a surprise ending - kazoos passed round the front stalls so we could join in with Happiness. I do love a bit of audience participation.
Below, a video of Happiness from the concert (not great quality), plus some photos.