tue 16/07/2024

Ute Lemper, Queen Elizabeth Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Ute Lemper, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ute Lemper, Queen Elizabeth Hall

The German singer and actress premieres a song cycle of the love poems of Pablo Neruda

Ute Lemper: multilingual genre-hopperwww.utelemper.com

The show which Ute Lemper brought to the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of the London Literature Festival - “Pablo Neruda: A Song Cycle of Love Poems” - is brand-new; the six-piece band (with which she has just recorded it, and which will be touring it) was performing it live for the first time.

This Neruda project, a series of 12 love poems, is different from Lemper's most recent Charles Bukowski venture, which she succinctly described to Samira Ahmed this week on Women's Hour as "very garage, jazz-influenced, open, theatrical and dirty". As a continuous piece, the Neruda is also a departure from the open-ended, definitely-no-set-list Last Tango in Berlin which she brought to London in early 2011.

What Neruda's poems demand from any treatment is intense rhythm, as the poet's reading of his own “Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche" testifies (see video below). The statuesque Lemper is a strong physical presence - she prowls the stage, sits or stretches on a stool, sidles up to her band members, sits back-to-back with her pianist - although she is more careful how she moves these days, since her back surgery; it is sad but inevitable to note that the dancing career of Maurice Bejart's one-time muse is over.

'Mack the Knife' started in Berlin but soon started to swing like Ella

As ever, Lemper pulls surprises: the intensely erotic poem “La noche en la Isla” catches the listener unaware by being sung in French, evoking the spirits of Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel, two of the singers whose shadows loom ever-present over Lemper's work in cabaret. There's also the nagging (if probably too mundane) question of quite how a Chilean poet inhabits the world of the Argentinean tango, when the High Andes - surely - get in between.

But, in the end, it's about the music, which is pleasant, superbly played, and creates many moods. "It's through music that it all flows; music is my tool of making contact, my medium of expression," Lemper told me when I interviewed her in 2010. It is performed by a top-flight band, including regular pianist Vana Gierig. His lightness of touch enables him to infer mood-changes with the deftest, slightest of musical gestures. Co-composer of the project, bandoneon player Marcelo Nisinman, has been replaced for the tour by another great specialist of the instrument, Victor Villena, and Lemper's husband, percussionist Todd Turkisher, is one of the most creative and resourceful exponents of the Cajon drum anywhere.

At this early stage, though, while the songs clearly work as vehicles for Lemper to hop across styles, they don't yet come across as individually memorable, and although Lemper is using a script, her ingrained cabaret habit of delivering multilingual patter between songs doesn't yet allow the text to command attention in its own right, as it probably should.

After the Neruda came an extended encore section, featuring two numbers which gave the many native German speakers and Lemper devotees in the audience their perfect dessert of two Weill songs. Lemper drifted deliberately into a thick Berlin accent ("janz jewöhnlich") in a deliciously distended, languorous Kurt Weill “Bilbao Song”. Then “Mack the Knife” started in Berlin but soon started to swing like Ella, and travelled swiftly through “Cabaret”, “Alabama-Song” and “All That Jazz” before returning home. The audience, rightly perhaps, reserved its loudest cheer for these.

Listen to Pablo Neruda read “Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche

While the songs clearly work as vehicles for Lemper to hop across styles, they don't yet come across as individually memorable


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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The bandoneonist on the gig was Victor Villena, not Marcello Nisinman.

Thank you. The text has been amended

I feel very privileged : this comments section is on the way to becoming bandoneon heaven! Julian Rowlands of El Tango Siempre is THE specialist of the instrument in the UK ( http://www.bandoneon.co.uk/ ) and Marcelo Nisinman is one of the top players anywhere. Thank you both for putting me right. Ute Lemper also wrote to me, in response to my cheap jibe about Chile and Argentina. Ute Lemper points out that Matilde Urrutia, who was the inspiration for much of Neruda's love poetry, and who eventually became Neruda's third wife in 1966, though born in Chillan in Chile, was actually of Argentinian origin. Good source: http://www.neruda.uchile.cl/amoresmatildeurrutia2.htm Ute Lemper also refers to Neruda's yeas of exile after 1949, spent partly in Argentina. Furthermore, she writes, "there were also many Chilean influences in the music like the instrument of the Charango and many guitar driven grooves in a 6 beat (the Chilean folklore rhythm)." Thank you! Another development - that hero among record producers Matthias Winckelmann of ENJA let me know that he is about to release a new record by Vana Gierig entitled "Making Memories", and featuring Paquito D'Rivera ( http://www.enjarecords.com/cd.php?nr=ENJ-9597 ) Incidentally, for Germanists, Matthias is a descendant of the brother of the pioneering Hellenist Johann Joachim (J J) Winckelmann, which gives a completely new spin to the line from Bilbao-Song from Tuesday which I now can't get out of my head: "Joe, mach die Musik von damals nach!"

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