Album reviews: Official Secrets Act | Mahler | Wynton Marsalis | Alan Reid and Rob Van Sante | Musique de Baviere



ON FIRST listen, there is nothing conspicuously new about this hotly tipped London four-piece. Like any number of current indie guitar bands, they sound like they'd much rather be from New York – if you didn't know better, you'd swear Mainstream was by Vampire Weekend, while the Strokes could sue them over the openings of Victoria and So Tomorrow, if they hadn't already borrowed off all their best ideas from other bands twice their age.

It's all in the details though – a rumbling low piano note here, a gorgeous, understated brass arrangement there. OSA have a wider set of references than most of their contemporaries – Bloodsport sounds like the work of a band who spent their youth listening to Ultravox and early Spandau Ballet, while the lovely, slow-burning closing track verges on soft rock. In Tom Charge Burke, meanwhile, they have a versatile, erudite frontman who can sound like Russell Mael one minute, Mike Scott the next. While you may spend much of the album playing spot the reference point, then, you'll never be bored.




LSO LIVE, 8.80

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FOUR hundred singers and players may be 600 short of the legendary 1,000 who premiered Mahler's Eighth Symphony in 1910, but in the gloriously resonant acoustics of St Paul's Cathedral, this massed performance by the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, together with the Choral Arts Society of Washington and young choristers of Eltham College, has a sense of colossus and power that gives Mahler's epic the grandiloquence and universal scale it simply cannot do without.

To say that LSO chief conductor Valery Gergiev's vision is cathartic is selling this recording short. Gergiev piles climax upon climax – it's more an Alpine range to conquer than a single mountain peak to climb.

The opening section, a setting of the Veni Creator Spiritus, is magnetic and compelling in its momentous unity. An eight-strong solo line-up, largely Russian, match in voluptuous intensity the sheer magnitude of the choruses. A sense of exhaustion exudes from the final double fugue Gloria.

So when the brow-beaten Adagio opens the Faust-inspired Part II, the anticipation of something very special is achingly palpable. Gergiev doesn't disappoint. Brilliantly and subtly animated choral singing injects a sense of bleak mystery and awe.

Again, the setting enriches the whole aural spectacle. It's the kind of performance you instantly wish you had witnessed, but this vivid and momentous recording takes you 99 per cent of the way there.





THE trumpeter's latest outing intersperses a dozen fine new compositions with a series of much less compelling recitations of his own poem He and She. The subject is just as the title suggests, the relationship between the sexes, traced from childhood to maturity.

The musical exploration of the theme was initially inspired by music in waltz time, particularly Max Roach's Jazz in 3/4 Time, and features numerous variations on that basic time scheme, alternating with sections in 4/4 and 5/4.

Marsalis leads his quintet from the front in inventive fashion, and receives powerful support from Walter Blanding's tenor and soprano saxes, and a superb rhythm section of Dan Nimmer (piano), Carlos Henriquez (bass) and Ali Jackson (drums).





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SCOTLAND'S national obsession with romantic failure and the art of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory has few better exemplars than the abiding fascination with Charles Edward Stuart. Allan Reid and Rob van Sante revisit the myth of the man who would be king in this nicely programmed set, combining the full-blown romance of traditional songs like Charlie He's Ma Darlin' or Will Ye No Come Back Again with a more sober revisionist look at history in Reid's own songs.

They form an intriguing dialogue, even if aimed more at tourists than hardcore folk fans in this Year of Homecoming. Reid recruits fellow Battlefield Band members Mike Katz and Alasdair White among his guests, with additional vocals by Maeve MacKinnon and Wendy Weatherby.




OCORA, 13.70

I NEVER thought I'd find myself devoting a whole column to the music of Bavaria, but this record is a big surprise. One forgets how closed-off this particular part of the world is, with its quiet lakes and pretty churches: even today you can sense the feudal religiosity etched deep into its culture.

It was thanks to the Bavarian royal dynasty that the local music first became protected and promoted: the royal family themselves were amateur folklorists, and played the zither in peasant dress. And it was thanks to the Nazis that three-part polyphony got a 20th-century boost which still powers it along: though some of the recordings on this disc are contemporary, others go back to the early 1970s.

The first sound we hear is that of the "cow-seeker" – a solo shout with a grace which is at once wild and finely controlled; we then hear a cheery plucked-string ensemble, followed by an equally cheery brass one. Then comes a song in close harmony – over a zither accompaniment strongly reminiscent of Anton Karas's performance in the soundtrack to The Third Man – followed by a medley of other instrumental pieces. The part-singing is refined, while the yodelling itself is fascinating: wonderfully resonant in four parts, or as solos where the purpose is simply to expand the singer's pitch-range.

And one constantly hears echoes of other musical traditions: from Portugal to Corsica, from Hungary and – in the case of the Jew's harp – from even further east. And when the music is exactly as we would have expected it, notably on the accordion, it's very deftly done. How can such a style keep its integrity in a world dominated and permeated by MTV? It's mystifying, but enormously encouraging.