INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Guardian MAY 27, 2006 - by Tom Service
BRIAN ENO / JOANNA MACGREGOR / BATH CAMERATA
Musical maverick and polymath Brian Eno is used to everything from stadium rock to electronic experimentalism, but being prayed for before a concert is probably a new thing for him. In the glorious gothic surroundings of Bath Abbey, the setting for his collaborative concert with pianist Joanna MacGregor, the vicar of the abbey asked for divine intervention as they started their musical journey together.
It was a programme of appropriately spiritual, meditative early music - instrumental pieces by John Dowland, and vocal works by Byrd and Tallis, sung by the Bath Camerata - as well as new pieces from Eno himself and James MacMillan. And while it didn't always touch celestial heights, there was a sense of musical adventure that saved it from tokenistic crossover.
MacGregor, the artistic director of the Bath festival, played a technologically souped-up Steinway, and the sounds of her performances of four Dowland pieces were further enhanced by Eno's electronic manipulation. He added a ghostly echo to her performance of Forlorn Hope Fancy, and a creepy shimmer to The Melancholy Galliard.
The idea of using electronic production on classical pieces is not new - think of William Orbit's album, Pieces In A Modern Style - but here Eno's input was more than simply decorative. MacGregor paid homage to the creator of ambient music with her live versions of two numbers from Eno's Music For Airports and they were given a sacred resonance in this liturgical space.
Eno's new songs, two settings of poems by Rick Holland and Isaac Rosenberg, were startlingly direct: The Airman was a fusion of beats and ferocious choral dissonance, while August 1914 used MacGregor's gently oscillating minor chords to underscore Eno's declamation of the text. But the most effective use of the Abbey's acoustic was also the oldest piece on the programme: Thomas Tallis's Spem In Alium was an overwhelming sounding of the vaulted spaces of the Abbey.