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Birmingham - Symphony Hall - Monday 10th September 2012

Nigel Kennedy presents: Bach plus Fats Waller.

Birmingham Post 14th September 2012

Four stars out of five.

Kennedy’s programme notes proclaimed his desire that this concert, nominally devoted to the music of Bach and Fats Waller, should not “become chronically serious”.

No chance of that. The danger was that it might become chronically fatuous. Twenty-odd years of attending Kennedy’s concerts have proved that their quality is in inverse proportion to the amount of talking he does.

We had badinage with the audience (arch and tedious), occasional effing and blinding (unnecessary) but also Kennedy’s execrable attempt at singing (criminal) resulting in grievous bodily harm being perpetrated on Waller’s The Spider and the Fly.

When he shuts up it’s a different matter, of course – this man can play like an angel. Interspersing movements from Bach works for solo violin – the prelude from Partita No.3 and the fugue, andante and finale from Sonata No.2 – with his own links performed with a jazz trio.

This wasn’t beautiful Bach but it was unvarnished, pugnacious and honest solo playing. Given excellent support by Jarek Smietana (guitar), Yaron Stavi (bass) and Krzysztof Dziedzic (percussion) Kennedy’s Celtic-flavoured jig, for example, was close in spirit to a Bach dance movement.

The encore, a high tempo riff on Bach’s double violin concerto, was enjoyable, too. Waller’s Viper’s Drag and Everybody Love’s My Baby fared well, as did an energetic jam session farrago where gypsy fiddling collided with the theme from Bonanza. “Switch off the mikes” he ordered for a hushed and heartfelt rendering of Danny Boy – Kennedy at his forthright best.