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RODERIC DUNNETT reports on a Maxwell Davies
European continental première
in Vatroslav Lisinski Hall, Zagreb, Croatia


I flew in to Zagreb with not a little trepidation. Maxwell Davies on full brazen form can assail the ears, and I had my reservations about hundreds of eager youngsters pounding home their environmental message at full blast.

This was Zagreb's Lisinski Hall, stage filled to the gills with 450 Croatian schoolchildren, all fabulously disciplined -- not a note or a flicker out of place. The Zagreb Radio Orchestra, a bit long-faced in a frothy opening piano concertante work by its rather over-eager soloist, Sanja Drakulic, but then enlivened by a sizzling performance of Thomas Ades' Asyla, masterfully directed by the perceptive and able young British conductor Paul MacAlindin, was by now on peak form.

But what actually turned the tide for me was the playing of the children, which was simply stunning. Maxwell Davies's The Turn of the Tide is a kind of Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra for the millennium, closer to A Midsummer Night's Dream than to Britten's original. Visualise members of a black-tailed symphony orchestra surrounded by swirls of emerald green-clad children. They invade the platform. They hover in the wings. They sidle among the second violins, seethe amidst the oboes and slither below the double basses. They corner a lone cellist and upstage the leader. And then the children start to play. They 'turn the tide'. First twangings -- soft tambourine, a sound like a woodblock; then a sad, haunting saxophone; a Pied Piper-like trumpet; then a whole bevy of tuned and untuned (but never tuneless) instruments. Caliban would have been mesmerised.

MacAlindin, always a sensitive conductor and shrewdly intelligent accompanist, kept The Turn of the Tide's large orchestral sonorities on a tight leash, which had the best possible effect : instead of the children's contributions, brilliantly worked up by workshop coordinator Richard Frostick and a team of Croatian teachers, being the mere fillers, they became the very substance of the piece, as if Davies, still the old leopard, were defiantly turning 'educational' work -- with its slightly patronising connotations -- on its head, much as he did when he first penned O Magnum Mysterium for his pupils at Cirencester Grammar School some four decades earlier.

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Copyright © 24 June 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK




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