Melange of emotions

Music: MELTDOWN; South Bank, London

A glance through the programme for Elvis Costello's "Meltdown" programme suggests that the world's music may indeed melt into an amorphous blob, like a burnt-out candle. New Orleans brass band, Qawwali from Pakistan, Deborah Harry and Shostakovich, Looney Tunes and Haydn: is this imaginative bricolage or haphazard eclecticism?

Certainly five hours spent in three concerts on Sunday produced a melange of euphoria, glazed indifference and hyperstimulation. In the Purcell Room, the Composers Ensemble, conducted by Diego Masson, crammed a dozen works into 45 minutes, no pause, no applause, little contact between performers and audience. It wasn't at all that the performances were bad, although Mary Wiegold sounded tense in Brahms's "Es traumte mir", and Costello's rendition of Ray Davies's "Waterloo Sunset" was rather perfunctory. What sucked the life from the programme was the unwillingness to concede that performance is about communication.

An hour later, Costello took the stage in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and the difference was immediately apparent: here is a performer who thrives on an audience. Costello announced that this was his second "Meltdown" appearance, after Friday's show with the Jazz Passengers: apparently he didn't count singing with the Composers Ensemble. Here he sang mostly his own songs, accompanied first by his skiffley guitar; by Bill Frisell; then by Steve Nieve on the piano; and finally by the close harmony of gospel veterans the Fairfield Four: in all, some two hours of singing.

Cracked and cranky, the Costello voice is wonderfully expressive as it wades through the bitterly vengeful paranoia of his songwriting persona. Yet he needs a solidly tuneful frame on which to stretch out. His own guitar responded immediately to every rhythmic eccentricity; and his tortured phrasing was well matched by Nieve's piano, all big Romantic chords and expansive flourishes. With Frisell on guitar, things fell apart, the tune at the centre could not hold. Frisell mixed Sixties twangy guitar with a jazzer's phrasing, but it all seemed tentative and precious. In the meantime the Fairfield Four, dressed in a remarkable combination of dungarees and dinner jackets, gave a spellbinding survey of 50 years of black vocal styles, from crisp jubilee through hoarse shouting to syrupy doo-wop. They promised to turn the hall into the Queen Elizabeth First Baptist Church, and they succeeded.

Then it was back to the Purcell Room for more from the Composers Ensemble. It was not too disturbing that half the programme had gone already, but there was more life than in the early evening show. Good heavens, the audience even applauded. Composers had been asked to write an arrangement of a favourite song: Thomas Ades turned inside out the nutty sound of Madness's "Cardiac Arrest", and Carl Vine made Richard Rodgers's "There is Nothing Like a Dame" sound like something George Martin provided for the Beatles. It might have been interesting to reverse the formula, to hear, for example, what Costello's ravaged tones might have made of Schubert's "Erlkonig".

A few days earlier, as part of the Spitalfields Festival, Michael Chance and Fretwork performed Costello's "Put Away Forbidden Playthings", composed for them. It was fascinating to hear Chance's stark falsetto phrase words in which it was still possible to discern the composer's gnarled voice, and with swooning viol accompaniment this has the makings of a palpable hit. After singing with Fretwork, Chance then gave a solo recital accompanied by the piano of Julius Drake. Counter-tenor recitals are rare, and it was good to hear Chance premiere Anthony Powers's "High Windows", a work, Chance suggested, "rooted" in the counter-tenor voice: and few are more beautiful than Chance's. Perhaps the falsettist's expressive range is innately restricted, but Chance's encore with Purcell's "Music for a While" ended the evening on a high note, so to speak.

n Meltdown continues at the South Bank, London (0171-928 8800) to 1 July

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit