Classical review: Angélique Kidjo/RSNO, Glasgow

Ang�lique Kidjo was keen that everyone should have fun and threw herself into the task of getting into the party spirit. Picture: Getty
Ang�lique Kidjo was keen that everyone should have fun and threw herself into the task of getting into the party spirit. Picture: Getty
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Another Saturday night gig at the Concert Hall for the RSNO, but this time their world-class soloist was a little more exotic and the programme a novel quantity. “Welcome to the new world,” proclaimed Angélique Kidjo, the Beninois diva whose international career has been characterised by her openness to diverse styles, traditions and collaborations.

Angélique Kidjo/the Royal Scottish National Orchestra - Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

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This latest adventure – her repertoire of mostly African song arranged for full symphony orchestra – was the brainchild of Luxembourgian composer Gast Waltzing, who conducted the RSNO on this mixed odyssey.

Some of the more romantic arrangements were reminiscent of the sumptuous backing employed by South African diva Letta Mbulu, while other pieces, including Kidjo’s much-admired version of Summertime, were accompanied by the smooth strings associated with easy listening composers such as Burt Bacharach or Henry Mancini.

At one point, Kidjo beat out a rhythm softly, almost absent-mindedly, on her legs and, if anything was missing from this collaboration, it was the ability to get earthy, funky and free with her usual Afro rhythms. Even the cheekier flourishes and deft delivery of the orchestra couldn’t quite inspire the party which Kidjo was itching for at some points.

However, there was no taming Kidjo’s instrument. She has quite a pair of lungs and her rich, rasping alto was always potent, whether accompanied simply by rhythmic guitar, gracefully floating with the orchestra or beseeching on the soulful Fifa (meaning “peace” in her native Fon).

Indeed, the collaboration made most sense on the statelier numbers, such as Naima, a lullaby for her daughter, or the melodramatic French chanson of Petite Fleur.

But Kidjo was not to be denied her party. The equation was straightforward enough: “you come to my show, you have fun.” A few dancing punters studded around the room were saluted, but not sufficiently for Kidjo, who encouraged full vocal participation on Mama Africa and cajoled the audience on to their feet by heading down into the crowd and weaving along the rows to press the flesh with her fans.

Suitably warmed up, the audience were again employed as her backing band during the a cappella finale even if – unlike the steadfast RSNO – we missed our cue at the end.

Seen on 17.01.15