Edinburgh International Festival dance and music reviews: The Rite of Spring | Lankum | Quartet for the End of Time | Mikhail Pletnev | Castalian String Quartet

Using dancers from all over Africa, École des Sables’ unique re-staging of Pina Bausch’s interpretation of The Rite of Spring is a fitting tribute to the late choreographer, finds Kelly Apter. Plus more reviews from the Edinburgh International Festival

The Rite of Spring / common ground[s], Edinburgh Playhouse *****

Until 19 August

Hundreds of dancers from across Africa auditioned for this production of The Rite of Spring. So, much like the ‘chosen one’ at the centre of Pina Bausch’s dramatic dance work, those we see on stage were selected for their uniqueness rather than their technical ability (although everyone here is superb). They bring a special quality to the piece, which – perhaps more than most works – is crucial to its success.

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As Stravinsky’s iconic score rages, the intensity of the movement needs to match it note for note. The 38 dancers must exist as one entity, whether they’re dropping into low pliés, flinging their arms forward in desperation, or bending sideways like a tree in the wind. But then, as they break from the crowd, they need to inhabit brief moments of individuality – especially the red-dressed sacrificial lamb.

All this and more is achieved by this incredible ensemble, brought together by Senegal’s École des Sables from 14 African nations. Bausch’s choreographic genius was never in doubt, but 14 years after her death, it feels re-born through this powerful re-staging. Gentle and deeply personal, but perhaps overlong, common ground[s] warmed us up, but The Rite of Spring burned as bright as a comet. Kelly Apter

Lankum, Queen’s Hall ***

The mood was set by a cavernous soundtrack of clangs and rumbles, but just when you wondered whether you might get Pink Floyd, on came Lankum, Dublin’s “Gothic folk” quartet of Radie Peat, Ian and Daragh Lynch and Cormac MacDiarmada. Their instrumentation – including concertina, harmonium, uilleann pipes and guitar – was supplemented by industrial-grade electronics and John Dermody on a big drum that fairly made its presence felt.

The Rite of Spring. Picture: Maarten Vanden AbeeleThe Rite of Spring. Picture: Maarten Vanden Abeele
The Rite of Spring. Picture: Maarten Vanden Abeele

There’s a defiant rawness to Lankum, particularly in Peat’s world-weary yet authoritative lilt, opening with I’m a Rover, transfigured from come-all-ye cliché into regretful keening. As accompaniments took on ferocious volume, a visceral walloping on that drum brought in Ian Lynch with The New York Trader, although lyrics could be obscured by the doom-laden sonic tableau.

Sting’s We Work the Black Seam became a deafening march. Yet they have an ear for characterful songs and telling harmonies, and when the grinding and battering subsided, the heartbreaking testament of The Young People and the reproachful harmonies of Cold Old Fire, their excoriating condemnation of economic and societal failure, had a real power of their own.

Gothic is good, but the insistent racket increasingly eroded this listener’s empathy – though an ecstatic audience would disagree. Jim Gilchrist

Quartet for the End of Time at the Hub ****

Two lots of Ysaÿe solo violin sonatas in a single day felt like overkill. And a bit of a programming error, to be frank. Clara-Jumi Kang’s blazing Queen’s Hall recital in the morning had included three, and just eight hours later, LSO concertmaster Roman Simovic played two more as openers to Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time at the Hub (including No. 3 all over again). Nonetheless, Simovic’s were jaw-droppingly fiery, passionate accounts, full of the high-flying lyricism that seemed to elude Kang.

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But Messiaen’s wartime Quartet was the main event, and it drew an equally passionate, committed performance, one shot through with the distance-gazing, awe-struck spirituality that the piece surely demands. LSO principal clarinettist Christopher Richards took his time peering into the sparse emptinesses in Abîme des oiseaux, and pianist Alexei Grynyuk was gloriously clangorous when needed, unafraid to strike the extremes of the keyboard with mighty force, but quietly insistent in the two slow Louange movements with violin and cello. Simovic’s closing Louange à l’immortalité de Jésus felt slightly muddied by a vibrato-rich opening, but LSO principal cellist David Cohen offered a magnificently eloquent Louange à l’éternité de Jésus, glacially paced and heart-stoppingly sincere. A Tattoo flyover as the Quartet’s closing notes were dying away seemed to roar in appreciation. David Kettle

Mikhail Pletnev plays Chopin, Usher Hall ****

Into a festival which claims courageously to tackle big issues and to name its agendas came a programme from a composer who abhorred defined titles and any sense of an underlying message in his music. Chopin, with his extraordinarily personal adventuring into a new keyboard language of intense virtuosity, sought a perfect expression of sensuality. Beauty ruled, through a language of spun singing lines and rushes of notes careening from a keyboard never before so vastly explored.

So came the great Mikhail Pletnev, with a programme of fantasias, polonaises and gorgeous nocturnes bringing great and poetic singing lines, with pedalling of supreme delicacy. We swerved from startling, positive major keys and song-like utterances to the dark emotional mire of Chopin´s deepest nationalistic feeling. At times, Pletnev seem almost to be caught in an improvisational reverie. There was the sense that an audience of hundreds was eavesdropping on a musician alone with his instrument, caught in a deeply private world.

While one cannot accuse the great pianist of inattention to detail, Chopin’s intricate, filigree passagework on a full-scale grand piano sounded submerged, engorged by the instrument’s lush resonance. The soaring long lines seized one’s breath; the silvery effusions seemed clotted. Mary Miller

Castalian String Quartet, Queen’s Hall ****

You have to admire violinist Yume Fujise for stepping in last minute to salvage this important programme by the Castalian Quartet: important in that it featured the world premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s new string quartet Awake; admirable in that Fujise – the leader of the upcoming Kleio Quartet – was replacing regular second violinist Daniel Roberts in an established ensemble known for its instinctive togetherness.

Maybe that’s what gave the opening work, Janáček’s String Quartet No 1 Kreutzer Sonata, an initial sense of unease. As it settled, and the tension turned from mild panic to feverish incision, a palpable confidence took hold.

Even more so in Turnage’s Awake, a work defying the norm from this typically belligerent composer. It was simply beautiful, inspired by the black violinist George Bridgewater, whom Beethoven admired, and characterised initially by the soulful prominence of the first violin, opening in scope in the second movement to explore a more shared independence across the ensemble. Rarely will you hear such subdued reflectiveness from Turnage.

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Then Beethoven’s String Quartet Op 130 with its ferocious original ending, the Grosse Fuge. If the latter took risks, verging close to collision, the fact it didn’t simply added to the soaring thrill factor. Ken Walton

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