Spired and emotional: the Oxford Lieder Festival 2020

On paper, the Oxford Lieder festival (wholly online this year, for contagious reasons) ended about a month ago. But not for me. Right up to the last minute, I’ve been extracting the maximum value I possibly can from my catch-up pass, viewing as many concerts as possible before the on-demand video archive finally vanishes from…

Mystery lays: Stef Conner, ‘Riddle Songs’

This startling, life-affirming record somehow manages a feat that has otherwise eluded science so far: time travel. Stef Conner has composed a suite of songs that demonstrate how, through the arts, the past is all there, all at once, running parallel to our present. What are its secrets? A bit of background (although Conner’s liner…

Yes, surprises: Rick Simpson, ‘Everything All of the Time: Kid A Revisited’

This album is an extraordinary achievement – certainly no ordinary ‘covers project’. Rick Simpson and his ensemble wilfully tackle head-on perhaps the original writers’ most elusive set of tracks and, fittingly, bring the same sense of adventure to the material as Radiohead might recognise from recording much of their music first time around. It’s impossible…

Promentum..!

Many of you reading this will be aware that the pandemically-adjusted 2020 Proms season has just shifted up a gear. Since mid-July, the BBC has raided its archives and broadcast selected performances from past years. Now, however, there is an all-too-brief fortnight of live performances from an audience-free Royal Albert Hall, available on various platforms…

Striking a harpsichord: Mahan Esfahani, ‘Musique?’

It’s impossible to resist writing about this tour-de-force of an album, a CD I’ve lived with now for a few weeks and keep feeling drawn back to, certain in the knowledge there’s always more to hear, more to appreciate. I would be happy to recommend any of Mahan Esfahani’s recordings, but my true favourites are…

Window to the inner world: Heather Leigh, ‘Glory Days’

Heather Leigh’s previous release, ‘Throne’, was one of my favourite albums of 2018. Picking up the record unawares, you might expect country rock – Leigh sings, and her chief instrument is pedal steel guitar – but that would be a mistake. On first listen, you might wonder just what it is you’ve let yourself in…

Body and soul: Anakronos, ‘The Red Book of Ossory’

This brilliant suite of songs practises its own apparent witchcraft, seducing you more or less straightaway with its beauty – which doesn’t fade after repeated listens. But as the debut album from Anakronos grows more familiar, it reveals and revels in layer after layer of sinister chills and thought-provoking arrangements and effects. Anakronos are a…

Virtual reality

I think experience has now told us – if we needed convincing – that these communal events are worth having. Not because they’re a substitute for live events, but because they ‘top us up’ culturally and emotionally, while reminding us to never lose sight of the irreplaceable power of the real thing.

Do we still need music critics?

Critic – one who engages often professionally in the analysis, evaluation, or appreciation of works of art or artistic performances The debate about the value of music criticism and those who write it is not new. In the digital age, the music itself has not changed, but the technologies through which we discuss, transmit and…