Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Keith Bruce
four stars
IN TERMS of its global ambitions, Scotland’s national orchestra is certainly making the right connections. Conductor John Mauceri’s return to Scotland, where he was music director of Scottish Opera three decades ago before departing for the Hollywood Bowl, concluded with the first performances of a new orchestral work for the festive season of which he presumably has high hopes — an assemblage of music by Tchaikovsky to tell the full story of the Nutcracker and the Mouse King, by E.T.A. Hoffmann, that survives only in abbreviated form in the ballet. Alongside the Nutcracker music, Mauceri has repurposed fragments from The Tempest, Hamlet, The Snow Maiden, and the “Children’s Dreams” Orchestral Suite No.2 to accompany his own translation of the narrative.
That narration includes some witty allusions to more modern fantasy fiction and film, but its success is all in the delivery, and the role of Scotland’s Hollywood star Alan Cumming in making the telling of it work cannot be underestimated. It is hard to think of another performer who would have given such a relaxed and charismatic performance of what is a multi-layered video game of a tale, often winning laughs from the most unpromising material. Further listening might establish whether Mauceri’s jigsaw puzzle becomes a coherent picture, but, like much else in today’s world, it could use a good sub-editor. At 80 minutes, it was a quarter of an hour longer than billed, and than some younger members of the audience could take. And, in the end, it has the same strengths and deficiencies as the composer’s own ballet suites as concert music.
Tchaikovsky’s Snow Maiden music also began the evening, Mauceri’s pace for The Dance of the Tumblers demanding some superhuman speed in the fingers of the first fiddles, with a very condensed, Disney-fied Sleeping Beauty following. Prokofiev’s Cinderella Waltz and chimes of midnight brought the first half to an end, and with it the unfortunate comparison with his Peter & the Wolf, its position as the perfect piece of music for youngsters still, at 25 minutes long, unmatched.

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