Tuesday 4 August 2009

Jacques Loussier returns, and I nearly miss him (or why twitter is great)

We all know twitter is great: it forced Amazon into a u-turn after they bungled and de-listed various innocuous books and it helped ensure the success of the recent protests in Iran (okay, that one may be a slight exaggeration). However, its greatest triumph came last night. Returning from a hard day at work, I read a tweet by @queens_hall informing me that Jacques Loussier had just completed his sound check.

It was as well I had yet to make my cup of tea, since I would likely have spat it out all over my keyboard. I'm a big fan of Loussier and his jazz versions of Bach and other classical composers. I'm very much looking forward to hearing him at City Halls next March. Given I managed to spot that Glasgow gig more than seven months out, I'm a little mystified as to how this slipped by me, especially given it's only two minutes round the corner. I'll put it down to the stresses of being a part-time volunteer Venue Manager at Venue 40 during the Fringe (shameless plug, check out our programme or our vegetarian cafe, open from Monday - all our profits go to charity) in addition to a full time job and the little matter of this blog. I have some sleep scheduled for September sometime. So, despite the fact I've been wishing Loussier would return to the Queen's Hall, I singularly failed to spot him on page fourteen of the Jazz Festival programme.

Of course, the great advantage of being two minutes from the Queen's Hall, is that it was a simple matter to nip round to the box office, obtain one of the few remaining tickets, and then home again for some supper.

This will be a brief review, largely because I have little to add to the one I did for his visit to the 2007 festival. The first half was more or less a carbon copy - we got the famous air on a G string, he even introduced it with the same "Here's a well known piece...", well known from its time in the Hamlet cigar adverts.

We also got the fifth Brandenburg concerto, the piece that first introduced me to Loussier and something I'd probably take a desert island. Foot-tappingly brilliant, it always lifts me if I'm feeling down. They played it to perfection.

Given so much repetition, and that they must play these same pieces again and again around the world, you might expect it would all be a bit routine and lacking in enthusiasm, sparkle or freshness. You would be mistaken

The bassist, Benoit Dunoyer De Segonzac, was the same as two years ago, but even more impressive. His solo during the pastorale in c minor was an exceptional exercise in dexterity as he produced a wonderful range of sounds from his instrument, and yet it fitted organically into the music. I had thought the drummer was different this time, but a check against my review find it was Andre Arpino then too. For whatever reason, he impressed me less last night. He was technically excellent, as he showed in a stunning solo during the concerto for harpsichord in D major in the second half. Unfortunately, for me, it didn't quite fit with the piece.

The main difference this time was that they gave us an all Bach programme, instead of splitting with a first half of Bach and a second filled with Ravel, Vivaldi and others. However, Bach is his signature and arguably what he does best and what responds best to his singular approach, so this is perhaps understandable.

Loussier, remarkably spry for a man approaching his seventy-fifth birthday, remains a fine pianist and showed no signs of needing to retire. Long may that continue.

Even from back in the the side stalls, as opposed to the very front table I was at last time (I planned ahead two years ago), and with the sweltering heat, it was an experience not to be missed. The audience certainly agreed, with many giving them a standing ovation.

I can't wait to catch them again in Glasgow and hopefully next time I'll book my Queen's Hall ticket in better time.

Actually, I have luck with last minute jazz at the Queen's Hall - in 2006 I stood for three hours just before the fringe kicked off while Chick Corea and his band worked their magic.

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