Brighton Festival, All Saints Church, Brighton, May 19
The dark, vaulted interior of Brighton’s All Saint’s Church proved to be a very different setting than where I mostly found myself on this particular weekend. Flitting between dingy basements and bars packed with bearded hipsters, I welcomed an excuse to take a break from the indie music of Great Escape Festival to dip into a special performance as part of the Brighton Festival. The atmospheric All Saint’s Church was hosting the UK premiere of the Belgian duo Belem – Kathy Adam on cello and Didier Laloy on diatonic accordion. And it proved to be an excellent choice of venue; the echoing acoustics both drew your attention to the quiet moments and accentuated the churning patterns traded between the two.
Laloy offered humorous, thickly accented introductions to most of the pieces despite admitting “I don’t speak your language.” His playing was as whimsical as his dialogue, his head darting from side to side, almost birdlike. Laloy’s intensity was offset by Adam’s calm, centred demeanour. The music was rooted in various European folk traditions, but flirted often with classical chamber music. Their strength was clearly in the gradual building of tension, often starting meditatively before expanding into a feverish swirl of sound that often seemed to finish without a sense of finality, almost as if asking a question of the audience rather than a delivering a closing statement.
The pieces were vivid and it was easy to guess that they compose with images in mind, which was confirmed by the programme notes that asked you to imagine ‘grasshoppers on the beach of the North Sea’ for ‘Youplaboum’ or describing that ‘Wednesday Cold’ was, as might be expected, ‘composed in Britain on a rainy Wednesday in December.’
Belem were positively engaging, both in music and personality – you never wanted to leave their company – and they delivered an excellent UK premiere. Here’s hoping they return to share their music with us again soon.
This review originally appeared in Songlines #129 (July 2017) p71. Download a pdf here.