Socialist Worker

Reviews round-up

Issue No. 2004

Detail from oil sketch for Constable

Detail from oil sketch for Constable's The White Horse

John Constable: The Great Landscapes
Tate Britain, London SW1, to 28 August

John Constable (1776-1837) sold just 20 paintings in his lifetime – but then he became too popular. Constant reproduction reduced works such as The Hay Wain to chocolate box cliches and saddled Constable with an undeserved reputation as a pastoral sentimentalist.

In fact Constable was a groundbreaking artist who jettisoned classical formalism for an art that captured lived experience. His famous works depicting his childhood landscape in Suffolk were forerunners to the Impressionist movement.

Tate Britain is showing his finished works alongside full size preparatory oil sketches – fresh, alternative versions that Constable never exhibited.

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Bluebeard’s Castle/Erwartung
Royal Opera House, London, until 10 June

This double bill offers up two operas that are central to 20th century modernist music.

In Bartok’s Bluebeard Castle, the duke brings his new wife to his castle where she discovers that he has murdered his former wives.

It is a tale of the redemptive power of love struggling against the commodification of relationships. Petra Lang and Albert Dohmen sing superbly in Willy Decker’s production, revived by Martin Gregor Lutle.

Erwartung is a “monodrama” by Schoenberg, founder of the Viennese atonal school of music, in which a woman bewails the disappearance of her faithless lover.

It complements Bluebeard’s Castle well, especially with Angela Denoke’s excellent singing.

Sabby Sagall

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Pet Shop Boys
CD out now

It’s 21 years since Pet Shop Boys stormed the charts with their electro-pop debut “West End Girls” – still the only number one to cite Lenin’s triumphant 1917 return to Russia.

Subsequent collaborations with artists from Kylie Minogue to Sergei Eisenstein heavily influence their latest album, Fundamental, which is a sumptuous fusion of passion, politics and regret.

The band’s hallmark lush melodies are pinned down with disco exactitude – and work to best effect on the urbane yet angry anti-ID card stomper “Integral”. An acute statement of cultural anti-Blairism – and so very, very Pet Shop Boys.

Mark D Smith

Rise Up
Thomas Mapfumo
CD out now

Thomas Mpafumo, known to his fans as the “Lion of Zimbabwe”, is always worth listening to. His soulful vocals blend into insistent rhythms driven by east African instruments.

His musical roots are in the freedom struggle against white rule in the 1970s. But today his barbed comments are directed against Mugabe’s dictatorship.

Detail from Constable

Detail from Constable's The White Horse (1819) (Pic: © The Frick Collection, New York)

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Article information

Sat 10 Jun 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2004
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