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<<  -- 2 --  Roderic Dunnett    THE TURN OF THE TIDE


The Turn of the Tide features several adult pied pipers : four or more orchestral string soloists play along with and engage in dialogue with the youngsters, notably a lightly arpeggioed, folky second violin (narodna violina), and articulate double bass. The elderly Croatian cellist, with his gently lined Slavonic features and wispy beard, a Papageno hauled from retirement, looked as if he'd been pied piping in his youth and was sagely reviving an ancient art. The children's phased tambourine crescendo and diminuendo near the start was astonishing, like a leaf opening and then curling -- James Blades, doyen of postwar percussionists, couldn't have managed it better. Soothing double flutes and sad bassoon in the main orchestra, intelligently guided and subtly shaded by MacAlindin, yielded to eerie wailings of woodblocks and celesta, horns of almost Götterdämmerung gloom and a gentle, hypnotic sad snap in trumpet and pizzicato strings.

My own student days first memory of concerts behind the Iron Curtain was of workers from the Skoda factory, sleeves rolled up and Bulgarian cigarettes drooping like Gauloises, strolling in to the Prague National Theatre for early evening Dvorák. A hundred miles or so south, this Turn of the Tide concert had some of the same buzz. Parents might have worked in a bank, in the council office, on the bottle factory shopfloor or hawking washing machines at the nearby Zagreb fair. They devoured the whole concert, and the Lisinski Hall was full to the gills : as an introduction to new music, quite some achievement.

But the children were the heroes, arguably above all the stunning young boy trumpeter, all of 12, sizzling through the kind of deft chromatics that the Radio Orchestra brass had earlier baulked at. There was a cheek to the youngster's playing, an assurance and an uncanny sense of rhythm, occasion, and an almost instinctive drama. The fourth 'interlude' (though I lost counting) -- a plethora of xylophone, crotales, croaking frogs, ringing telephone -- must have been one of the 'greener' environmental bits : a glorious controlled pandemonium yielding to saxophone, pipes, a superb young clarinet player, and a child fiddler, with the boy trumpeter, gaunt cellist and tuned percussion joined in for good measure.

Introduced as the composer from 'otoce Orkney' -- the Orkney isles -- Davies urged, like an inspired dance teacher, that a key element in his concept of music 'Education' was that children should be freed from straitjackets : not afraid of expressing themselves in bodies and voices. The master of Expressionistic parody needn't have worried. Maestro MacAlindin -- deservedly hailed afterwards by a massive cheer from the children and audience alike -- brought the occasion to a triumphant close with an intriguing Davies build-up (Mahler, Sibelius, Debussy -- you name it) and culminating children's chorale -- a kind of 'green' prayer, in clear descent from Maxwell Davies's Orkney pieces (Black Pentecost, The Spider's Revenge, Yellow Cake Review), and sung in impeccable English, a little parroted but with spot-on 'awkward' intervals and effortless two-against-three rhythms, in the unmistakable diminished fifths (paired minor thirds) modality that has been a characteristic of Davies's writing since the Fifties. The Turn of the Tide, with its 'Evergreen' message, may receive other performances of punch and precision, but the musical verve of these Croatian children deserves to become a legend in its own right.

Copyright © 24 June 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK




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