CLASSICAL Evelyn Glennie QEH, London

Wild antics from a woman and her marimba
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Evolution may have led to the aardvark and the octopus, but it can certainly deny any claim on Evelyn Glennie's marimba. Standing centre stage during her South Bank recital on Wednesday, this rare beast with its cluster of metal resonators looked like the piping of a mobile air- conditioning unit, or an exhibit from the Saatchi gallery.

Come to think of it, Glennie's show had little to do with nature, much with art and artifice. Running and jumping, singing and miming, her antics came close to the Chinese State Circus in style and the Theatre de Complicite in taste. It's a class act: the lighting, staging and mix of high- and low-brow: were perfectly judged to please. Even her deportment, casual yet assured, showed none of the stiffness seen even among seasoned performers.

And yet, for all the hype, her playing, though surely honed by hours of learning and practice, is most astounding in its sense of spontaneity and improvised freedom. From the spoken introductions that punctuated the concert, one got the sense that this applied to her pieces as well. For example, to the American composer David Lang's marimba arrangement of John Kay's Born to be Wild she added frog-mouthed cowbells and home- made cymbals drilled through with screws, while chanting the words in a gruff mezzo register to make a striking end to the first half. Like the concluding slapstick item, Django Bates's My Dream Kitchen, that's bound to amuse audiences throughout the country as she begins a national tour. There's no lack of challenging new or recent music: pieces for percussion that 30 years ago would never have been written and even now would be orphans without the succour of an Evelyn Glennie recital.

One such was the opening number for pitched drums, triangles and cymbals, David Horne's Reaching Out. The idea of the sponsor, BT, that the piece should gradually extend to all the instruments of the ensemble in the way that telecommunications have reached out to the Scottish islands seemed a dubious construct, but no matter; the work's musical logic was enough to justify its place in the programme. Likewise, Glennie's own Cadenza! for a quartet of pitched drums and a variety of stick and hand effects, and Kevin Volans's She Who Sleeps with a Small Blanket were worthy additions to the percussion repertoire.

But the soul of the evening remained that marimba, heard to magical effect in the hushed, tremulous chords of Andrew Thomas's Merlin and in Keiko Abe's whimsically oriental Variations on Japanese Children's Songs. Played with soft sticks, the instrument has an organ-like tone of intimate reflection. It found a voice in Glennie's own Light in Darkness, but it was the encore number, the Londonderry Air, that caught the sound to perfection.

Evelyn Glennie is at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool, 7.30pm tomorrow (01253 28372), and on tour to 25 May

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