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 and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas