IT'S FRIDAY MUSIC: Stellar Ariana Grande shows she's a star to cherish, writes ADRIAN THRILLS
Verdict: Hits the sweet spot
Ariana Grande’s return to British arenas was always going to be poignant, but the petite American did not disappoint as she opened the UK leg of her Sweetener World Tour before an audience dominated by young women, singing along to virtually every word.
This wasn’t a typical pop pageant. Grande’s career will for ever be framed by the Manchester Arena bombing which killed 22 of her fans and injured hundreds of others in 2017, and her empathetic response has carried over into her music, which embraces sensitivity and resilience where it was once shamelessly showy.
There were no direct references to the atrocity — or last year’s death of her former boyfriend Mac Miller.
Ariana Grande performs on stage during her 'Sweetener World Tour' at The O2 Arena
In fact, the singer from Florida said very little onstage, pausing only before the penultimate song No Tears Left To Cry to thank her fans for coming while adding that: ‘London has a very special place in my heart.’
This was in keeping with a spectacle in which the visuals were well-judged and modest. Grande, 26, was backed by a four-piece band and a dance troupe.
But, with the stage bathed in soft lighting rather than the garish displays associated with most arena shows, the emphasis was on her skyrocketing voice rather than brash pyrotechnics.
Anticipation had been building before she arrived. A Mexican wave rolled around a packed arena as 20,000 Arianators screamed ‘Ari! Ari!’ in unison.
The opening number, an a capella cover of The Four Seasons song An Angel Cried, was sung with Grande hidden from view, further heightening expectation.
The singer from Florida said very little onstage, pausing only before the penultimate song No Tears Left To Cry
Like most pop shows since Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour in 1990, the night was broken into different acts.
The early focus fell on the two albums Ariana has released in the past 12 months, with tracks from Sweetener and Thank U, Next greeted like old friends.
With the singer flanked by dancers as she moved onto an oval walkway, her trademark ponytail swishing, it was often hard to pick out the star of the show — a spotlight would have been handy.
But her jawdropping voice was soon taking centre stage; its multi-octave agility allowing her to tackle reggae on R.E.M. and dreamy pop on Sweetener.
Her five studio albums have given her a substantial repertoire, and she ended the first two segments of the night by drawing on chart-topping singles in Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored (accompanied with a bizarre routine involving wooden chairs) and 7 Rings, built around Rodgers & Hammerstein’s My Favourite Things.
Ariana Grande’s return to British arenas was always going to be poignant, but the petite American did not disappoint as she opened the UK leg of her Sweetener World Tour
With no backing vocalists, pre-recorded samples were used to flesh out the sound: Fake Smile contained an excerpt from Wendy Rene’s Sixties soul hit After Laughter (Comes Tears); Break Your Heart Right Back featured snippets from Diana Ross’s I’m Coming Out, including Nile Rodgers’ funky guitar; and rapper Nicki Minaj cropped up via an audio link on The Light Is Coming.
For current single Boyfriend, Grande was joined on stage by energetic pop-R&B duo Social House. In the main, though, any backing vocals came from thousands of enthusiastic fans.
GRANDE’S Sweetener tour also owes something to Broadway, where a teenage Grande cut her teeth in the musical 13 before starring in the Nickelodeon TV sitcom Victorious.
Certainly, there was something very theatrical in the way she knelt down on her walkway, surrounded by dancers, during N.A.S.A.
Dangerous Woman was prefaced by a clip of her singing Cole Porter’s My Heart Belongs To Daddy and then belted out with all the controlled gusto of a classic show tune.
She surged to full power elsewhere, too, singing to the rafters on the disco- orientated Love Me Harder and soulful ballad Only 1, both from 2014’s My Everything, and hitting the soprano notes on a version of Breathin’ which developed into one of many joyful audience singalongs.
With another chart-topper — Thank U, Next — adding a celebratory coda, the night ended in a shower of confetti.
It was a high-octane finale to a show that hit the sweet spot by reiterating Ariana’s strength of character without relying on whistles and bells.
As pop’s biggest female singer — she was the most streamed woman on Spotify in 2018 — Ariana Grande has become a superstar to cherish.
- The Sweetener tour continues at Manchester Pride Live on Sunday (arianagrande.com).
The famous C sharp minor Prelude, one of his earliest works, almost became a burden to composer Sergei Rachmaninov
RACHMANINOV: 24 Preludes
The famous C sharp minor Prelude, one of his earliest works, almost became a burden to composer Sergei Rachmaninov. He had to play it as an encore at every recital: no wonder he wrote 23 others, covering all the remaining keys — and Boris Giltburg plays all two dozen magnificently.
The ten Preludes, Op. 23, were written in 1901-03, a decade after the C sharp minor, and the 13 Preludes, Op. 32, followed in 1910. They were all composed to a high standard.
The G minor is a wonderful Alla marcia and many of the pieces invoke the sound of bells.
The second last Prelude, in G sharp minor, is a particularly lovely piece, but there is not one Prelude here you would want to do without. The piano sound is very lifelike.
A lovely set of the six Sonatas for cello and piano that Beethoven wrote between 1796 and 1815
BEETHOVEN: Cello Sonatas
(Onyx ONYX 4196, two CDs)
A lovely set of the six Sonatas for cello and piano that Beethoven wrote between 1796 and 1815.
Two artists of the younger generation, the German cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and the Ukrainian pianist Alexei Grynyuk, combine well and are nicely recorded.
Besides the five Sonatas he intended for the cello, they include the Horn Sonata in Beethoven’s cello arrangement — playing the first movement faster than a horn can.
They do not provide the three sets of variations, but they shine, particularly in the two early Sonatas and the two late ones.
Any reservations relate to everyone’s favourite A major Sonata, Op. 69, where there are little telltale signs they may have been trying too hard to be expressive.
An American conductor and his Norwegian orchestra give spectacular accounts of two British classics
HOLST: The Planets, etc.
An American conductor and his Norwegian orchestra give spectacular accounts of two British classics.
Andrew Litton has long been a friend of our composers and audiences, and — having moved to the Bergen Philharmonic — he has programmed Holst’s Planets and Elgar’s ‘Enigma’.
The Elgar variations, recorded at the Grieg Hall in 2013, are highly successful and will delight anyone who wants an up-to-date version in SACD sound.
Holst’s suite goes very well for the most part and is even more brilliantly recorded, dating from early 2017. My sole tiny reservation concerns ‘Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity’. No one has equalled Sir Adrian Boult in the big tune, which Holst reluctantly arranged as a hymn; and Litton slows down unconvincingly at one point.
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Raised in Missouri and based in LA, country-rocker Stevens has sung with Joe Walsh, Jackson Brown and John Fogerty
LESLIE STEVENS: Sinner (Thirty Tigers)
Raised in Missouri and based in LA, country-rocker Stevens has sung with Joe Walsh, Jackson Brown and John Fogerty — and maybe even some singers whose names don’t begin with the letter J.
She enlists hipster producer and guitarist Jonathan Wilson to give this solo effort an ambitious, singer- songwriter glow. Her voice soars from a snarl to a soprano on Twelve Feet High, while the title track has the aura of a Stevie Nicks ballad.
‘I can always say I lived my life my way,’ sings the unrepentant country veteran
TANYA TUCKER: While I’m Livin’ (Fantasy)
‘I can always say I lived my life my way,’ sings the unrepentant country veteran on her first batch of new songs in 17 years — an album of hard-won wisdom.
Tucker had her first hit, Delta Dawn, as a teenager back in 1972, and her voice retains its heart-wrenching edge. High Ridin’ Heroes reiterates her outlaw spirit and Bring My Flowers Now glorifies living for the moment. Recognising a kindred soul, she covers Miranda Lambert’s The House That Built Me. ★★★✩✩
This week’s country triple-header is rounded off by the easy-going Vince Gill
VINCE GILL: Okie (Snakefarm)
This week’s country triple-header is rounded off by the easy-going Vince Gill, who celebrates his home state of Oklahoma on Okie.
Gill has been the Eagles’ touring guitarist since 2017, but revels in even more leisurely styles here. He can be mawkish, but is also prepared to tackle difficult topics, addressing child sexual abuse on Forever Changed.
Separate tracks pay homage to Guy Clark and Merle Haggard, who died within weeks of one another in 2016.