Picasso-Ingres Face to Face at National Gallery

In room 46 of the London National Gallery, two portraits hang, one by classical painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, the other by Pablo Picasso. Ingres’s portrait is of society beauty, Madame Moitessier (1856). Picasso’s portrait, several metres away, is of his mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, entitled Woman with a Book (1932).   You may wonder why these works have been given…

Walter Sickert Unsettles and Enchants at Tate Britain Retrospective

Walter Sickert is a bit of an enigma. Brilliant certainly, rather weird, probably. Author, Patricia Cornwell, wrote a book about him, claiming that he was the Jack the Ripper. She is not the first writer to associate Sickert with the infamous murderer. Other writers postulate that Sickert was the Ripper’s assistant. What is undeniable, is that Sickert…

Body horror: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, at English National Opera

This icy, subtle production presents Margaret Atwood’s terrifying vision with a clear-sighted, almost detached precision. Poul Ruders’s score gets under your skin, amping up the tension as events come to a head, while the heart-breaking performances relentlessly deal the emotional blows. Opera as commentary, catharsis and conscience: brilliantly done. * ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ the opera,…

Ice flows: Penguin Cafe, Barbican, London

Penguin Cafe’s recent performance at London’s Barbican Centre is likely to go down, in my own personal annals, as one of my favourite concerts of all time. It still feels like hyperbole to type that: it was only a few weeks ago. But how can I explain? – that wave of euphoria that carries you…

Fashioning Masculinities at the Victoria and Albert Museum

With its latest exhibition Fashioning Masculinities, the Victoria and Albert Museum traces the paths of masculinity through clothes (historical mostly) objects, film, and painting, from the 16th century to today. I admit to having been a little sceptical about the enterprise, fearing that it would be too much of a challenge to cover such a broad topic…

Continental lift: Rebeca Omordia, ‘African Pianism’; the African Concert Series

This marvellous disc contains multitudes. The variety of sounds and styles packed into its generous 77 minutes showcases not only the infinite intrigue of a music too little-heard until now, but the lightly-worn virtuosity of Omordia herself. (Important note: for the facts/background underpinning this post, I’m indebted to Robert Matthew-Walker’s invaluable booklet notes which, in…

A Moving New Production of Cunning Little Vixen at ENO

Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen is a perplexing but masterful opera, full of darkness, yearning and joy.  On the surface it is a fantastical story, that of a Vixen who is captured by a Forester and who escapes, after causing a minor Orwellian revolution amongst the hens. She falls for a Fox, and my apologies for the spoiler,…

Opalescence – Piano and chamber music by Ruth Gipps

Sonata for cello and piano, op. 63 (1978) – world premiere recording The Fairy Shoemaker (1929) – world premiere recording Theme and Variations, op. 57a (1965) The Ox and the Ass Introduction and Carol, op. 71 (1988) Opalescence, op. 72 (1989) Scherzo and Adagio for Unaccompanied Cello, OP. 68 (1987) – world premiere recording Sonata…

The dark ascending: Dead Space Chamber Music, ‘The Black Hours’

This is music at once vivid, immediate – and at the same time, otherworldly, almost surreal. In its heady combination of genres, approaches and sounds, the album feels both timeless and original. In the best sense, it’s a sonic trap, daring you to identify familiar elements and motifs, only to snatch them away and re-purpose…