Strung out on the sublime
A Victorian chapel, a sea of candles, a large and expectant-looking crowd. No, not the local primary school’s
Nativity play, though the atmosphere couldn’t have been much more Christmassy if a crib and a donkey
had been wheeled out on to the Union Chapel stage. Instead we get Björk and the Brodsky Quartet, a
seemingly unlikely pairing until you take into account the Icelander’s trademark eclectism.
Her recorded material has always been littered with orchestral textures—a vestige of her training as a
classical musician—and her versatile compositions would probably accommodate a wobble board and a
penny whistle, never mind something as conventional as a string quartet.
Tonight, Björk’s songs are stripped bare and, to begin with, the mood is one of uncertainty. During
“Unravel” and “All Neon Like”, the singer tiptoes around the songs much like she tiptoes around the
stage, as if frightened of making too much noise in the consecrated surroundings. During “I’ve Seen It
All”, the strings seeming more an accessory than an integral part of the proceedings, and the reception is
It is not until “Modern Things” that they start to enjoy themselves and the sound develops into a coherent
whole. Looking more like a school dinner lady than a Nineties icon in a pink gingham dress, Björk finally
unleashes the old dynamism, flinging her arms into the air, stamping her bare feet and opening her
mouth as wide as possible, as if allowing her repertoire of squeaks and susurrations to come tumbling out
at once. Her voice is extraordinary, moving from a choirgirl’s clarity to the guttural growl of an articulated
lorry revving its engine.
Though Björk has been performing a handful of these songs for over seven years she still seems to exude
a childlike sense of wonder at every note, an almost gauche demeanour that belies the maturity and
sophistication of her talents.
The Brodskys seemed determinedly unabashed by her antics, their stiff upper lips even remaining intact
when all but the cellist are sent to stand in the corner during a sublime version of “Like Someone In
Indeed, a lot of the evening’s credit must go to the string musicians, for it is their generously restrained
performance that gives Björk the space to reach new heights of perfection, their soft textures allowing
the abstract melodies to float freely, their indomitable poise making the singer’s movements seem, by
contrast, all the more oddball.
“I’m not much of a talker,” she says, thanking the crowd and weaving the hem of her pink dress in and out
of her fingers. True enough. Rather, it is her lyrics that speak volumes about her work. “Sometimes the
things I do astound me,” she intones in “Like Someone In Love”. She’s not the only one.
Fiona Sturges - The Independent