Review: Nigel Kennedy, Usher Hall

Nigel Kennedy
Nigel Kennedy
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When Nigel Kennedy, resplendent in punk gear and obligatory Aston Villa shirt, finally bounds onstage half an hour late, he quickly apologises and shrugs, “They’re doing something on Princes Street, are they?”

It’s over 20 years since he burst into popular consciousness with his recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which became the best-selling classical album of all time. Tonight’s performance features his own original compositions in the Four Elements, followed by an updated interpretation of the work which made his name.

Kennedy’s Orchestra of Life has some unusual components – electric guitar, jazz trumpet, a giddying array of foot pedals and the percussionist from Massive Attack. The music goes to unexpected places, with the excellent players making light of seemingly improbable lurches from “straight” classical through 70s funk, rock with audience clap-along, and some ambient twiddling a la, well, Massive Attack.

The sound mix seemed a little off, particularly the vocals which were virtually impossible to make out at times but, overall, there is a fine mix of adventure and fun coupled with some brilliant playing.

After the interval, on to the Four Seasons. In the programme, Kennedy argues that it would be both mad and boring to try and recreate the interpretations of 20 years ago. Accordingly, while Vivaldi’s classic is wisely left more or less recognisable, familiarity does breed irreverence and so Kennedy is not afraid to throw in new sounds and other flourishes.

People can take or leave Kennedy’s mannerisms as they please, and some will doubtless have a go at his efforts to reinterpret the “classics”. Regardless of that, he is a brilliant musician. Himself, the orchestra and, crucially, the audience are all clearly having a ball.

Probably would have been better for all to have departed to the ovation they had deservedly received at the end of the main set, rather than the self-indulgent jazz encore but, even by the standards of Edinburgh’s recent wonky weather, four seasons and four elements in one night is pretty good going. When they are brought to you by one of the true masters of his craft in such sparkling form, they are verging on unmissable.

Rating: 4/5