Barocci – Brilliance and Grace

Barocci Poster

On Monday, having recovered from my Italian foray at Fizzano, I went to London to see the incredible Barocci exhibition at the National Gallery.

Little known outside Italy, as there are, astonishingly, only two Barocci pictures on public display in the UK, Frederico Barocci was a celebrated painter of the late Italian Renaissance.

The National Gallery must be congratulated in their bringing together of 47 of his works in a glorious well arranged display in their Sainsbury Wing.      Though the pictures were wonderful enough in themselves, I found myself captivated by his working sketches, mostly in inks and pastels but some fully worked in oils.

brocci madonna pastel barocci hand study barocci child study

He worked largely alone, with few pupils, and consequently many of his pieces took over 5 years to complete.  His meticulous drafting and inspired use of vibrant colour bring a vivacity and fluidity of movement seldom found even amongst the Great Masters, especially in draperies and clothing.   His imaginative compositions lead the eye irresistibly to the focus of the picture, without appearing in the least contrived such is his mastery.  His introduction of servants, workmen and others, often with bottles, bowls or tools, lend a sense of commonplace reality even to the sacred.

barocci last supper

His version of the Last Supper is just such a masterpiece.

The exhibition is only on until the 19th of May, but if you can possibly get there I would exhort you not to miss it.  One of the very best exhibitions I have ever visited.


‘Fences’: Lenny Henry playing Troy Maxson at the Cambridge Arts Theatre

Lenny Henry was outstanding as the troubled family patriarch, Troy Maxson, in August Wilson’s play, ‘Fences’ last night.  He appears to go from strength to strength as a character actor and lead, not in the least overshadowed by his illustrious predecessors in the role; James Earl Jones and Denzil Washington.

Troy, a black man who was denied his chance at baseball stardom by the racism prevalent in American sport post-war, has become an embittered refuse collector.  His bitterness leads him to destroy his family around him.  Denying his son, Cory [played by Ashley Zhanghazha] the sporting chance he has, and eventually even alienating his loving wife, Rose, and his great friend, Bono.

It sounds bleak. And in some ways it is.  But apart from being the gripping unraveling of a tortured man, it is also shot through with affectionate humour and loving banter.  It says much of Lenny Henry’s new won status that even in the funniest moments you never think, “Oh, here he goes being a comedian again.”

It also doesn’t descend into a neat scenario, where everything turns out for the best.  It remains hard and true to the end.  Rose, a woman who channeled her life through Troy, becomes strong and independent again.  Cory finds another vocation, and even Troy’s brother, war damaged and cheated on, finds a form of salvation at the end.

All the cast were outstanding, especially Tanya Moodie as Rose, and Colin McFarlane as Bono.  But Lenny Henry’s tour de force performance left the stage feeling somehow emptier on the few occasions when he wasn’t there.  Incredible, impassioned, bawdy, and drawing an electrical response from his exchanges with other cast members, Lenny Henry has moved, I feel, from a good serious actor to a seriously good actor!

Moving to the Duchess Theatre in London, from 26th June to 14th September, I will be seeing it again and would recommend it to anyone.

April Fools Day Concert at the Festival Hall

01_april_fools_day_concert_ukes_clusterThe first sunny day of Spring I found myself London Eye-side of the Embankment en route with a friend of the distaff persuasion to an April Fools Day Concert. I was irresistibly drawn there by the promise of an appearance of The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, and having missed several of their concerts this year I thought this might be the next best thing.

After opening screenshots of a suitably ribald /irreverent nature drew the audience together in laughter, The London Firebird Orchestra filed onstage, followed by Rainer Hersch, and the mayhem began.

Ginka’s Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla were variously mangled and thrown to the audience and the pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin came on to give us Beethoven, ‘but not as we know it Jim….’  Pachebel’s ‘Canon’ was thoroughly trashed in a similar vein.  Alistair McGowan, despite my misgivings, was very good and his rendition of the Mikado’s Song by Gilbert & Sullivan was a joy.  Enlivened as it was by various topical ‘digs’ at our current ‘Masters’.

Superb soprano Lindsay Sutherland-Boal stole the show with her version of the Strauss ‘Laughing Song’ sung by gargling with a bottle of Champagne.  Then after the interval The Ukes joined for an all too brief episode of Peter and the Wolf, narrated by Alistair McGowan. Then in a bit of ‘nonsense’ they did one of their gems, ‘The Devil’s Gallop’, or the’ Dick Barton Theme’ for those of a Radio4Extra persuasion.

A wonderful day, in aid of the Musicians Benevolent Fund, and bookmarked for next year already!