Olafur Arnalds, St John At Hackney, London

Arnalds seems in a flat and quiet mood, not his usual perky self and the set never quite takes flight.

Rating:

Olafur Arnalds is a composer with a flair for the cinematic, which is perhaps why he’s chosen to make his return to London in one of its most atmospheric venues. St John at Hackney Church in the north east of the city is a vaulting Georgian landmark, dripping in three hundred years of history; all damp-stained ceiling and paint-peeled walls. Perfect for the return of an artist that damn near tore the roof off the Barbican back in the snowy wastes of March. Unfortunately tonight, the building is the star, with Arnalds and his string quartet a entertaining if regretfully not wholly-compelling sideshow.

Technical problems aside, the set starts well, with Arnalds and company offering up a blend of icy piano melodies and lush string arrangements including cuts from the composer’s major label debut, ‘For Now I Am Winter’. However, where on record and previous performances, songs flowed together in a delicious river of flowing sounds, tonight they fail to coalesce; unlike the projected visuals on the alter, which roll and tumble in unison.

Arnalds too seems in a flat and quiet mood, not his usual perky self and the set never quite takes flight. When occasionally grinding strings and pummelling electronic beats threaten, the composer seems to back off and tracks fade away where they should bloom and explode.

One of the more positive moments is ‘Brim’, a rhythmic strings ‘n’ beats tempest with grinding and angular instrumental cries over a dirty, grimy beats. It’s a long way from the sparse introspection of the rest of the set and is one of the few edgy moments, with Arnalds and quartet head banging away in unison - classical for a generation of twenty-somethings raised on post-hardcore.

The pinnacle of the set however, doesn’t involve Arnalds at all. Two thirds of the way through, an impressive tangent sees an impassioned solo from the quartet’s violinist. The composer sits mutely at his piano as the audience applauds its loudest of the evening.

Olafur Arnalds is a truly great artist of infuriating youth that belies his musical maturity, something evidenced by the passionate turn out tonight. Unfortunately however, his performance doesn’t quite hit previous heights.

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