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…

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…

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…

Retrospecstive 2021: slight return

One more look in the rear-view mirror before 2021 disappears completely… After the multi-course blowout of choosing 25 recordings of the year, this is more of a digestif, if you will. A few events and developments that gave me cause for celebration: one each for pop, classical, TV, media and film. Bon ‘Voyage’: the return…

Album release: Georgia Train, ‘Needles & Pinches’

Here is a singer-songwriter confessional that blasts new energy into the genre. Violently resistant to any cliché, the entire album walks a tightrope between the accessible and avant-garde: unflinching, uncompromising and ultimately unforgettable. Georgia Train has already built up a rich back catalogue. I first heard her music as one half of duo Bitter Ruin…

Two of US: Lucas Meachem & Irina Meachem, ‘Shall We Gather’

This is a big, bold, beautiful beast of an album: a concept recital that uses song to grapple with belonging, community and how those noble aims align with what it means to be American. Let me say at the outset that this is a bravura performance by both singer and pianist. This may be a…