Rufus Wainwright marks the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death with a musical compilation of his sonnets
Rebel son of a folk dynasty, torch song troubadour, opera composer, Judy Garland tribute act… Rufus Wainwright is a true 21st century renaissance man. So he’s not going to pass up the chance to work with the original renaissance man and greatest lyricist of all time.
His latest project, Take All My Loves (****), marks Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary with recitations and musical settings of nine Shakespeare sonnets, as intoned here by noted thesps including Siân Philips, Helena Bonham Carter, Carrie Fisher, German grande dame Inge Keller and William Shatner doing his William Shatner thing.
Three tracks have previously appeared on his Songs For Lulu album; the rest have emerged from a couple of commissions, by the San Francisco Symphony and theatre director Robert Wilson. The melodramatic results may test even the most committed Wainwright acolyte – and could well horrify Shakespeare scholars – but you’ve got to admire his bravado. This is Wainwright in his element, fusing classical and pop music with classical literature and theatre.
A number of his selections concern Shakespeare’s love for the Fair Youth. A Woman’s Face, Shakespeare’s famous paean to “the master-mistress of my passion”, is performed by Austrian soprano Anna Prohaska, whose soaring delivery graces several numbers, including the musical theatre flourishes of For Shame.
Wainwright himself relishes the romantic angst of Take All My Loves but manages to restrain himself on a resonant backing which blends Indian percussion and minimalist piano. He is joined by sister Martha and Bonham Carter, sporting a breathy American accent, on a propulsive symphonic rock setting for Sonnet 23, As An Imperfect Actor, while the social commentary of Sonnet 66 is delivered as a Brechtian cabaret number called All Dessen Müd.
Noted foghorn Florence Welch is surprisingly understated on When In Disgrace with Fortune and Men’s Eyes. Utilising her bird-like upper register, there is a fragrant folky quality to her singing over a complementary light, bright backing which belies the anguish of the words. But even when handled with such care, this loving tribute to the Bard will probably divide listeners. Wainwright probably likes it that way.
The latest album from RM Hubbert, renowned fingerstyle guitarist of these parts, also begins with a spot of spoken word from writer Anneliese Mackintosh over his sparse but soothing playing. Telling the Trees (***) features an all-female roll call of collaborators, mostly musicians and predominantly vocalists and lyricists, whose styles prove to be remarkably simpatico with their guitar muse, all the more so when you consider that everything on the album was composed remotely.
Anneke Kampman of Conquering Animal Sound keeps rhythmic time with the flamenco inflections, while the delicate folk strains of Kathryns Joseph and Williams are ideally suited to Hubby’s beatific playing and the richer tones of Karine Polwart, Eleanor Friedberger and Martha Ffion draw you into their storytelling worlds, be they located in Midlothian or Midtown Manhattan.
Hector Bizerk’s new album, The Second City of the Empire (***), is titled after and brazenly rooted in their native Glasgow. Rapper Louie’s accent is inescapable and appropriate, while his rhymes embrace themes local and universal. The Tree That Never Grew tackles racism and sectarianism, while Everybody Laughed is a bleak tale of sexual exploitation. The musical backdrop is ever more ambitious, ranging from the menace of Rust Cohle to the springy bass and jazzy keys of Festival Boy, one of a couple of lighter moments on an otherwise heavyweight offering. Fiona Shepherd
JAZZ: Danielsson Neset Lund: Sun Blowing | Rating: **** | ACT
Three Copenhagen-based musicians – Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson, Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset and Danish drummer Morten Lund – went into the city’s Millfactory studios to play together for the first time as a trio. This resulting album captures an exuberantly spontaneous session, combining seriousness of purpose with palpable delight – music of the moment that bears prolonged and satisfying listening.
The trio flexes its collective muscle in the opening Little Jump, with its big, bouncy bass, laconic tenor sax and limber drum work, while in contrast, the title track has a shadowy, hymn-like quality to its exposition on double bass before Neset’s sax laments hauntingly over a susurrus of percussion.
Up North strides along like a jaunty nursery rhyme, while the album’s only cover, Don Grolnick’s Cost of Living, receives a stately treatment with some lazily free-fall improv. The centrepiece, however, is Neset’s composition Salme, which evolves from emotive reed keening, through tempo changes and purposefully honking improvisations, to close breathily over ominously tolling bass and drums. Jim Gilchrist
CLASSICAL: Purcell Songs realised by Britten | Rating: **** | Champs Hill
The driving force behind this complete survey of Benjamin Britten’s modern realisations of Purcell songs is pianist Joseph Middleton, who features throughout in combinations with six different singers, Allan Clayton, Matthew Rose, Ruby Hughes, Robin Blaze, Anna Grevelius and Benedict Nelson. It’s a fascinating collection, countless songs spread over two discs, from such sacred classics as A Morning Hymn (much championed by Janet Baker) to a concluding set of 15 on “the fairer sex”.
Britten’s accompaniments are a delicious combination of florid decoration and lightness of touch. Middleton’s realisation of them is exquisite and sympathetic to the countless dramatic hues evoked by his team of singers. A useful and enlightening compendium. Ken Walton