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Max and David Pountney after the world première of 'Mr Emmet Takes a Walk'

In presenting this study of 'the enigma of suicide' Pountney's production managed to deliver precisely the impudent, by turns sinuous and in-your-face, unpredictable, tongue-in-cheek nastiness his libretto aims at. Maxwell Davies's score is riddled with intriguing instrumental twists and pungent scoring, subtly or at times overtly underscoring the piece's gallows humour and growing unease, culminating in its grisly end. He makes back reference to his own music theatre works and to a number of composers -- including Bach and Schumann (Symphony 2), but also surely, during the unnerving assembling of motifs at the start, to the terrifying outburst from the finale of Beethoven 9, itself a super-concentrated example of just the kind of 'ratcheting up of tension' Davies alludes to.

At key moments a cello -- shades of Davies's Vesalii Icones -- is Mr Emmet's companion on the lonely road to death, and together with marimba (plus Mr Emmet himself at the piano) assists him in nostalgically recalling his mother and childhood. A flute provides the searing engine whistle. As the intrusions of his hotel room -- its walls have unnerving eyes and ears -- gradually compound his unease and growing terror, falsely lulling strings, glissandoing cello, tuned percussion, trumpet and clarinet all merge in a mockingly lush, leering interlude, as if further to unhinge their victim. At the St Magnus Festival in Kirkwall's spacious new Pickaquoy Centre, Siebens contrived to keep the ensemble always lucid, and never overbearing : no mean feat. The end (the one predictable moment, explicit from the start) was searing.

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Copyright © 16 December 2000 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK





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