Nigel Kennedy

RICHARD BRATBY AND ASTON VILLA HEAR NIGEL KENNEDY IN RECITAL
Symphony Hall ***


Symphony Hall is lit in claret and blue, the backing band wear Villa shirts: yes, Nigel Kennedy's back in town. I've never seen him play outside of Birmingham so I've no idea how his Villa Park bantz go down with a crowd in, say, Manchester. But there's no doubt that he still has a warm following in Birmingham, if no longer enough quite to fill Symphony Hall, and his announcement that he was dedicating the concert to the memory of the late Sir Doug Ellis drew an appreciative response.

He's gone this time for a sort of Stephane Grappelli / Django Reinhardt set up, with two excellent jazz guitarists and a bass, plus a cellist, Peter Adams, who sounded distinctly uncomfortable with any attempt to swing but made a gorgeous sound nonetheless. The music – in as far as it mattered – mainly comprised a sort of semi-improvised klezmer suite of Kennedy's own composition, which in its wilder moments had an enjoyably folksy swing.

At other times, as so often with Kennedy's improvisations, it sounded like offcuts from the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, though a jagged, chaotic bash through an unaccompanied Bach fugue showed why it's probably best that he avoids the classical repertoire for now. Next came a sequence of Gershwin songs in Kennedy's own arrangements, and again at their best – such as an exquisite little paraphrase on Rhapsody in Blue - they were intensely sensitive. Kennedy took to the piano for interminable stretches: competently enough, and the fans didn't appear to feel short changed. Next week: Jonas Kaufmann plays the kazoo.

Well, Kennedy is Kennedy. We all know by now that his phenomenal musicianship comes as a package with a man whose whole Peter Pan shtick appals as many people as it charms. That's what you're getting; that's what we got. Audience members screamed – seriously, they howled - with approval. And for £5 you could also buy a glossy programme in which Kennedy accuses Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald of "pandering to a white middle class audience". I wish I was making that up.

Richard Bratby

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