Children’s Classic Concerts

RSNO Centre, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

CHAMPIONED by The Herald’s Michael Tumelty from its earliest days, Children’s Classic Concerts has reached its 25th anniversary year, and the Glasgow-based introduction to music is still packing halls with youngsters, and their minders, but now more widely across Scotland. The organisation has metamorphosed over the years, through partnerships with Scotland’s professional orchestras and with various front-of-stage interpreters guiding the audience through the programme, and now boasts, for the first time, its own dedicated ensemble.

The Essential Orchestra, led here by McOpera’s Katie Hull, brings a new dimension to the Children’s Classics story, with a level of involvement from the players that surpasses previous programmes, as well as making touring more feasible. The name is quite precise: this a chamber ensemble with nine strings, just a single cello and bass and one each of the winds and brass as well. What is lost in the power of a symphony orchestra is more than made up in the simplicity of the set-up from the point of view of its audience.

Still on board is Owen Gunnell, once half of the Owen’n’Olly percussion double act, and recently a member of Colin Currie’s new group. As ebullient an emcee as ever, as well as being virtuoso soloist and conductor during the show, Gunnell now has crucial support from the players. This programme was built around Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, still the finest orchestral work for young listeners, and the flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon and horn players were costumed as the bird, cat, duck, grandfather and wolf that they play instrumentally, taking up positions across the stage as the narrative unfolds. With Gunnell in the role of Peter, the narration was eloquently supplied by Ryan Ferrie, a Royal Conservatoire of Scotland musical theatre graduate seen in somewhat different guise in the last Tron theatre panto.

He was also an excellent, and mute, foil to Gunnell in the clowning around to Tchaikovsky’s dance music and a closing medley of show tunes in what is a winning incarnation of the whole Children’s Classics concept.