Thursday, December 10, 2009

Really Playing with History

At the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC, Sting recently gave a concert of Christmas music through the ages, to support his new album If On a Winter's Night.... I suppose this is a good example of what Butt, Taruskin, et al call the romance of otherness in historically-informed performance, perhaps gone horribly wrong.

From Jon Pareles's review:
Sting looked like quite the 19th-century Victorian gentleman when he performed a concert of winter songs at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine on Tuesday night. He wore a long frock coat, a white shirt and an antique-style tie. Much of the music originated from even earlier times: 15th-century carols, songs from Purcell operas, traditional English ballads. Sometimes Sting played a lute.


He delved into European early music, old carols and lullabies, odd crannies of church music, Schubert’s “Winterreise” and his own songs (to remake the melancholy “The Hounds of Winter”). He added lyrics to a Bach cello sarabande. And he ended up with a collection of songs that was somber verging on bleak: winter with the King of Pain.

The faith in the carols was humble and awestruck, not celebratory. From the 16th-century poet Robert Southwell, Sting chose the grim imagery of “The Burning Babe”; from Henry Purcell, whom Sting called “England’s first pop star,” he chose “The Cold Song,” about an unwilling resurrection: “Let me freeze again to death!” He pointed out the dire lyrics of lullabies, and he found a 20th-century composer, Peter Warlock, who brought chromatic anxieties into worshipful songs.

Weird. Although I will say that his outfit looks more seventeenth-century Puritan than Victorian, although the Puritans didn't allow beards as I recall. I don't know, I shouldn't be judgmental. We talked about Sting in my med/ren class last semester, apropos of John Dowland. The general consensus was that although his reverb-heavy approach to interpreting Dowland left something to be desired for my (newly educated about lute music) students, they were in favor of anything that brought the repertoire to a wider audience

I hope at the very least he makes a nice donation to the Revels.

1 comment:

Sammee said...

I don't know, Phil... I say based on his horrible outfit alone, it's crap. hehe. There's something about it all that really offends my sensibilities. Also, ever since the Dowland songs, every time I tell dilettantes that I study early music, their response is, "Oh, like Sting?!" Um, no...