For today’s Sunday of Sloth we look at art and artists somewhat out of context: an iconic picture, re-examined by technological advance: glam-rockers doing a music-hall knees-up: Velvet Undergrounders scaling it back to a jaunty duet; a chilly Schubert song ‘expanded’, but retaining a stark beauty.
In March of next year the Welsh violist John Cale and New York’s Lou Reed will both celebrate seventy years on the planet, something that must have seemed unlikely back in the 60’s when drug-fuelled bickering forced them apart in the seminal band they formed together, Velvet Underground. Musical respect brought them together again more than twenty years later, and in 1990 they produced a classic collection, Songs for Drella, as a tribute to their recently passed friend, the flakey Andy Warhol. From that wonderful cycle, the swaggering, pungent two minutes of Small Town.
When German bombers flattened the Basque town of Guernica during the Civil War Pablo Picasso, at the behest of the Republican Government produced, in a frenzy of activity, an eight metre long mural as a response to the outrage. I don’t feel the forensic detail thown-up by this 3-D stroll ‘through’ the picture adds much to the oil on canvas original but, combined with the haunting melody of Nana, a folk tune realized by the great Andalusian Manuel de Falla, it has a bleak and sorrowful power.
In 1975 Queen were pushing hard at the limitations of progressive rock music. Sheer Heart Attack, from the previous year, had defined the ‘sound’ of the band, but along came A Night at the Opera, and a 24 carat masterpiece was born, Queen’s Sergeant Pepper, sans pretentiousness. The key, as always, was that they didn’t take themselves too seriously, and with a frontman like Freddie, they wouldn’t have needed to. Even the extraordinary Bohemian Rhapsody had a lightness of touch. Here, the rarely heard Good Company has the mad feel of a saucy seaside postcard, with the liquid guitar (and banjo) of Brian May.
Not the first outing on Lazy Sunday for Franz Schubert’s desolate song-cycle Winterreise, but here the first song Gute Nacht it has been re-thought by the quirky Dutch composer/conductor Reinbert de Leeuw with, to my ears, no loss of atmospheric tension. The original has been expanded to embrace a chamber orchestra, and the Wilhelm Muller lyrics are now half-spoken, half-sung by the veteran German actress Barbara Sukowa. The visual track is once again by Andrei Tarkovsky, a sworn enemy of the sloppy sentimentality and sexual excess that clogs so much of cinema today.