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Arts reviews

Peter Pan:

The Never Ending Story

The Hydro, Glasgow

Alison Kerr

Where to begin with what turned out to be a such a spectacular disappointment that the offspring begged to be sent home in a taxi at half-time? Peter Pan: The Never Ending Story (nightmare, more like) is a re-working of the much-loved JM Barrie tale but you'd only really know what was going on, or what the characters' personalities were, if you'd seen Barrie's play, or read the book, or grown up with the beguiling Disney film version.

In the translation to an arena show, plot, characterisation and charm have been lost.

Instead of those elements, what we got on Friday's opening night performance, was an impressive CGI backdrop - rolling seas, desert islands, the rooftops of London, etc - and some unremarkable special effects, among them the much-publicised flying-without-harness sequence in which Peter Pan flies on the spot above a wind turbine. (The other flying sequences, which involved travelling from one part of the stage to another, were done in the traditional way.)

The show lurched from one set piece to the next, each one accompanied by a pop hit with some sort of literal or tenuous relevance to the story - Peter sang Angels, presumably because Robbie Williams hasn't yet written a hit about fairies, and Duran Duran's Wild Boys was the theme for the Lost Boys. If I was transported back to my youth, it was to the time when there were a lot of dodgy Euro-pop videos on Top of the Pops.

The one familiar name in the cast of this Dutch production was that of Stacey Solomon - yup, the X Factor winner whose speaking voice was nigh-on unintelligible. Says it all really that she was the narrator.

BBC SSO/MacMillan

City Hall, Glasgow

Michael Tumelty

HOW do we characterise the phenomenal concert given on Saturday night by the BBC SSO, with a string of premieres played by this unique orchestra in a programme devoted to the music of James MacMillan, all conducted by the man himself?

In a way it's easy. The night featured music that was beguiling, intriguing, poignant, hilarious, electrifyingly exciting, challenging and, for those who know a little about MacMillan's music, comprehensively revelatory.

The chugging Stravinskian rhythmic influence in the very early Symphonic Study was widely observed, but more startling was the innate confidence of orchestration evident throughout the piece. There are seeds there about which we did not know. Until now.

And with the final work in the programme, The Keening, from the mid to late eighties, and a beautiful, emotionally powerful work, you could sense MacMillan's music right on the cusp. If you know Tryst and Isobel Gowdie, they are just over the horizon. Seed elements of these pieces are there in The Keening: in the Scottish "bendy note" string technique, the explosive brass barks, the eruptive percussive rhythms; not quite yet the motoric drive; but good God, what questions were answered.

The poignant little memorial, For Sonny, writ large for string orchestra, was heart wrenching in its honesty, and as intimate as the brass piece Exsultet was, well, exultant. But in a way, the Scottish premiere of A Deep But Dazzling Darkness, with the impassioned solo playing of SSO leader Laura Samuel, was particularly gripping. This was MacMillan in expressionist mode, from dark to darker, from Berg to bonkers, with the miseries of Job lightened by Charles Ives, cartoon characters and a mock Sousa march all storming the stage. Stunning.

Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

Martin Kershaw

So here was a real treat for those lovers of the themed concert: a programme unified under the title of Paris Masterworks whose components were then further interlinked via two nicely conceived sub-themes. The first of these was no less than Mozart, whose brief (and not particularly happy) sojourn in France's capital dominated the first half, beginning with his Symphony No 32. It was a scintillating start, the orchestra expertly revealing all the lovely detail in this brief work with effortless élan under conductor Joseph Swenson's assured direction.

Our second sub-theme - the harp - was then introduced in Mozart's charming Concerto for Flute and Harp, with Sivan Magen (harp) and Alison Mitchell (flute) as featured soloists. Magen's precision and poise were a delight to behold, blending beautifully with Mitchell's wonderful tone and fluency in a captivating partnership.

Following the interval, Magen returned to centre-stage with a thoughtful rendition of Debussy's Danses Sacrée et Profane. Again the remarkable technical facility was abundantly evident, although his playing was perhaps a little too subdued to hold sway over the swirling orchestral accompaniment and enable the music to achieve its full impact.

As the concert's closer, Bizet's exuberant Symphony in C quickly restored energy levels, with the ensemble revelling in this work's precocious ebullience, gleefully rampaging through the outer movements with relish and vigour. Throughout, Swenson's evident enthusiasm was infectious, and if there were moments in the complex rhythmic interplay of the third movement when the orchestra could have done with a slightly firmer time-keeping hand, it was not at the expense of a thrilling end to the evening.

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