Review of Nigel Kennedy in the National Concert Hall
While his platform capers, designer tatterdemalion gear and amusing, if occasionally coarse, banter, delivered in a pseudo-cockney accent, can become quite tiresome relatively quickly, once Nigel Kennedy begins bowing his violin one can forget the surrounding malarkey and be hypnotised by the sheer beauty of his perfectly-pitched tone.
Possibly the most versatile violinist on the international circuit, Kennedy is here with a self-devised programme for which he is joined by a quartet of exceptional musicians – Doug Boyle and Rolf Bussalb, guitars; Adam Czerwinski, percussion and Tomasz Kupiec, double-bass.
It is partly a homage to Bach but it also has contemporary influences, with considerable helpings of Nigel Kennedy's own compositions.
The show's first half offers a divertimessent of Bach, mainly movements from his solo violin sonatas and the famous Air on a G string from his 3rd Orchestral Suite. While, in themselves, these are pieces of significant polyphonic variety, Kennedy and his ensemble extend them further into canvases of dazzling diversity.
Mind you, it is virtually impossible to keep track of the originals in Kennedy's phenomenal variations where his accompanying group add their own particular instrumental voices with continuous assurance and individualistic style.
Maybe these transformations and improvisations are occasionally over the top but this doesn't really matter as the performances have electrifying spontaneity and astounding rapport between the musicians. The evening's second half brings a set of pieces by Maestro Kennedy himself inspired, he mentions, by a number of sources.
These include his teacher Yehudi Menuhin, jazz violinist Stephane Grapelli and guitarist/composer Jarek Smietana. 'Dla Jarka' is a tribute to the latter. Kennedy intertwines hints of Indian ragas, Middle Eastern sounding folksong ideas and a touch of Vaughan Williams into his fascinating tribute.
His 'Melody in the Wind', written for himself and Grapelli, introduces a surprise element when Kennedy is joined by our own multitalented Cora Venus Lunny. Lunny matches Kennedy's eccentricities with unflappable panache.
There are additions including Kennedy's version of the Paul Desmond classic 'Take Five' showing the violinist's extravagant virtuosity temporarily subdued as he provides a kind of quietly atonal accompaniment to his guitarists' brilliant solos.
Vittorio Monti's 'Csárdás' comes as an encore. Kennedy has the astonishing ability to make his violin sing, talk, laugh, sob, squeal, murmur and whistle. Without doubt, here is a consummate artist at play.