Classical music’s great strength is that it needs no mediation: wherever it's heard, and in whatever circumstances, its voice is the same. But people have always been tempted to trick it out with visuals, and never more so than now, as its purveyors lose faith in their capacity to speak unaided to a generation raised on American mass-entertainment. Last month the pianist Leif Ove Andsnes unveiled a video he had commissioned to give Mussorsgky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition' a visual dimension: a stunningly pointless exercise, given that the music is itself so visually evocative. Meanwhile Deborah Warner unveiled her staging of 'The Messiah' at English National Opera: even if it hadn't been so cack-handed, it would still have been superfluous.
Now comes Transition with its video presentation, in three linked concerts, of the music of John Dowland, Luciano Berio, and Alessandro Scarlatti - the director of the last of which was Laurence Cummings, taking time out from podium-duty at the ENO 'Messiah'. Transition's premise with Dowland was that his songs' quintessentially sixteenth-century melancholy could be delivered by a twenty-first-century office worker hunched over his computer, "in a place of existential angst and isolation": and where better to shoot the video than in the newspaper office directly above the hall where the performance would take place? Snapping off his desk-light at the end of 'In darkness let me dwell' was just one of the literal ways in which countertenor Stephen Wallace was induced to dramatise the music, while the videos above his head were at times unhelpfully distracting. Yet in strictly musical terms this performance was a triumph, with Wallace's flexible and expressive sound perfectly complemented by Andrew Maginley’s exquisite playing on the lute.
The tricksy videos accompanying three of Berio’s solo 'Sequenzas' were downright disruptive. These dense pieces of instrumental virtuosity - dazzlingly performed by violinist Clio Gould, cellist Oliver Coates, and soprano Claire Booth - needed total concentration on the part of the audience, and simply didn’t get it. The work which fared best was Scarlatti’s cantata 'Correa nel Seno Amato', in which Claire Booth - giving a marathon display of transcendent vocal beauty - was accompanied by a Baroque-instrument ensemble, some pleasant footage of trees, water, sky, and inky pages, and a "contemporary" dancer who mercifully spent most of the work lying prostrate at her feet.Reuse content