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Björk delivers a moving night of voice and strings at Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A. on Tuesday

A week or so before Björk arrived at Walt Disney Concert Hall the Icelandic singer described her upcoming performance – just her unique and powerful voice over the accompaniment of 32 string musicians — as naked, no electronics, no drums, no rock and roll clamor behind which to hide.

What she didn’t say, but which became quickly apparent in the first hour of her stunningly powerful performance in Los Angeles on Tuesday, was that the concert she’d deliver would leave her equally exposed, the soul-baring lyrics of her most recent album “Vulnicura,” and the gorgeous accompaniment of the orchestra all the more moving for the intimacy of the concert.

Björk arrived on stage to the first of many standing ovations from the audience in the sold-out Disney Hall dressed in the kind of typically dramatic costume : a bejeweled mask with rippling appendages floating behind her by James Merry, and a glossy black top with horn-like shoulders by the South Korean designer Kaimin over a black Dior dress. She looked almost dangerous, encased in a hard carapace, and as she sang the opening six tracks from “Vulnicura” it made sense that she’d put on her armor before embarking on this journey.

“Vulnicura,” which arrived in 2015, chronicles the falling apart of her relationship with the American artist Matthew Barney, with whom she’d had a daughter during their 13 years together. And “Stonemilker,” which opens both the album and this concert, is set in a particular place in the unraveling of their love. “Nine months before” is the notation in the CD booklet for this song, placing it at the beginning of the end, and as the orchestra played the melancholy melody of “Stonemilker,” Björk sang, slowly and beautifully, “Moments of clarity are so rare / I better document this,” her declaration to a lover who is slipping away.

That’s a lot to absorb on the fly, of course, but even if you didn’t know the back story of these songs, as they unfolded the music alone carried enough of the emotional message swelled if the ache in my chest by the end of “Stonemilker” and “Lionsong,” the uncertain, still-hopeful song that followed, was any clue.

Walt Disney Concert Hall carries within its modern architecture a sense of art and style that felt perfect for the subtly theatrical staging of the performance. “Black Lake,” which runs 10 minutes on the album, might have been even a bit longer live, and was the centerpiece of this opening set. “My soul is torn apart,” she sang as the stage lighting glowed red, creating an otherworldly feel as the strings swelled through several false stops until concertmaster and violinist Katia Popov played it to a finish with such a lovely solo that Björk bowed to her and applauded as the audience stood to cheer.

By the time “Family” and “Notget” wrapped up this portion of the show the unfolding story had reached 11 months after the end of the union, those final numbers hitting notes of grief (“How will I sing us / out of this sorrow,” she asks in “Family”) and finally acceptance (“Love will keep us safe from death,” she sang, much of the audience joining her, at the finish of “Notget”).

If all of that sounds like heavy fare, well, it was in the way that a great and tragic story can be powerful and cathartic. Even so, it was a bit of a relief that after intermission the mood lifted with songs from throughout Björk’s career that in general hit on more upbeat sounds and themes.

“Aurora” kicked off the second set with her voice swooping above the pizzicato violins and groaning double basses, now dressed for this half of the concert in colors that also reflected the lightness to come : a pale purple dress with a cape attached at one shoulder by designer Micol Ragni, platform-heeled boots and another glittering moth-like headpiece by Merry.

These songs were also more familiar to the fans, a metric you could measure by the cheers that greeted the opening notes of such numbers as “I’ve Seen It All,” her Oscar-nominated song from “Dancer In The Dark” — and the reason why she’s still remembered for the swan dress she wore to the Academy Awards in 2001. “Jóga” and “Bachelorette,” both from her third album, 1997’s “Homogenic,” were equally received, the latter playfully sung and delivered with Björk waving her arms and snapping her fingers to the underlying tango rhythms of the song.

The main set wrapped up with “Quicksand” and “Mouth Mantra,” both of which are featured with most of the earlier “Vulnicura” songs in Björk Digital, the virtual reality exhibit which like the concert is presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic as part of its Reykjavik Festival.

Between “The Anchor Song” and “Pluto,” her two encore numbers, Björk spoke to the audience for the first time other than the thank yous that acknowledged the applause throughout the night. She thanked the orchestra, noting that nearly all of them were local, then introduced the conductor – “From my country !” – fellow Icelander Bjarni Frimann Bjarnason.

“This is emotional for me – it’s my last winter concert,” she said, referring to the end of these “Vulnicura” shows as well, perhaps, as the wintery emotional landscapes they unflinchingly view. “I’m really happy I spent it with you guys.”

The cheers and applause – then and throughout the night – made clear that feeling was shared by all who’d been along for this rare journey to the heart and soul.

PETER LARSEN

publié dans ocregister - 31.05.2017

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