Brodsky Songbook with Jacqui Dankworth at Kings Place


Jacqui Dankworth (vocalist) & Brodsky Quartet [Daniel Rowland & Ian Belton (violins), Paul Cassidy (viola) & Jacqueline Thomas (cello)]

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 7 December, 2012
Venue: Hall One, Kings Place, London

Brodsky Quartet. Photograph: one of the most versatile jazz singers of her generation, combine her with a string quartet which has broadened the repertoire in so many respects with commissions and collaborations, and everything should be in place for an evening both enjoyable and entertaining. So it proved when Jacqui Dankworth joined the Brodsky Quartet (which has been marking its fortieth anniversary with a season of recitals at King’s Place that surveys the extent of its considerable repertoire) for a programme which took in a broad range of folk-songs, standards, original settings and new arrangements – all performed with a keen understanding of what made such music work as much on its terms as in its chosen context.

Opening with the poignant Irish traditional song ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ saw Dankworth emerge almost ethereally from the rear of the auditorium in a processional onto the platform where she joined the Brodsky musicians for a spirited version of the Declan McManus-penned ‘Rocking Horse Road’. A suitably sultry rendering of John Dankworth’s Shakespeare setting ‘Speak Low When You Speak Love’ proved to be the perfect foil to Charlie Wood’s insinuating treatment of Tagore’s poem ‘Patience’, before a trilogy of numbers by Harvey Brough proceeded from his elegiac setting of the Bard’s ‘Go Lovely Rose’, via his instrumental take on Donne’s ‘The Triple Fool’ (elegantly recited by Dankworth beforehand), to his suitably rapturous setting of Shakespeare’s sonnet ‘Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day’. After this came the inward musing of Lorca’s ‘Narciso’, atmospherically set by Alec Dankworth, before the first half drew to a close with the (surprisingly?) affecting ‘Fragile’ by Gordon Sumner – as rendered here, unfailingly touching though with the subtlest sting in its tail.

The second half was launched with the bewitching insistence of Dankworth’s ‘Answer My Prayer’, itself complemented by a caressing rendition of the English folksong ‘The Sally Gardens’ as arranged by Benjamin Britten. Two numbers were selected from a project that the Brodsky Quartet had undertaken with teenage schoolchildren (what might be described as the ‘squeezed middle’ in terms of such assignments) – with the faux-naïve manner of ‘Happy Hat’ representing one end of a spectrum which has Kate Curtis’s sombre ‘Abyss’ at the other. After the affecting Irish traditional song ‘Raglan Road’ proved highly amenable to arrangement, the pensive Nelson Riddle co-write ‘Close To You’ hinted at its undoubted ‘classic status’, which could yet be applied to the subtle eloquence of Dankworth’s ‘Time Takes Its Time’. The full-on emotional drama of Björk’s ‘I Play Dead’ rounded off the official programme in uncompromising terms, but two encores were provided in the guise of the Lerner & Loewe’s ‘Like Someone In Love’ (enhanced here with a deftly interwoven cello line derived from the ‘Prelude’ of Bach’s First Cello Suite); its limpid ecstasy thrown into relief without being merely obliterated by the uninhibited verve of the Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon collaboration ‘Sittin’ On Top Of The World’, in a raunchy arrangement by John Dankworth with which his daughter gave her considerable all.

Throughout, the numerous and varied arrangements (several of them undertaken by the mercurial violist Paul Cassidy) were always appropriate to the song at hand, with the performances were almost invariably done to a turn by Dankworth and the string-quartet: and which surely has more pleasures to come.

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