Small Tales, Tall Tales

Cheltenham Music Festival (1): Kenneth Hesketh, Judith Weir, The Opera Group, Owen Gilhooly, Heather Shipp, Claire Wild, Mark Wilde (singers/actors) Patrick Bailey (conductor). John Fulljames (director) Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, 2.07.2006 (AO)

The dark, wild forests of Germany were powerfully symbolic in folklore. Hidden in the forest, strange, elemental forces operated and in the “realm of the night” anything could happen. Fairy tales were a kind of ancient folk imagination, subverting the rational orderliness of society. Little wonder then that the Romantics, breaking away from classical sensibility, found inspiration in peasant folklore for it was like a code for exploring complex feelings, in an era before psychology give us terms to articulate them. We owe “the forest” a lot and tonight’s concert showed how powerful the symbolism still remains.

On a plain black set, a singer in white tells a story from the Brothers Grimm. Thus starts Hesketh’s Small Tales, Tall Tales. The music follows the narrative closely, just discordant enough to remind the listener that all is not what it seems. The piece flows naturally into Weir’s Really ?...and other stories. They have a natural affinity, like Ewartung and Bluebeard’s Castle. They could easily become popular staples of music theatre as they are accessible enough to appeal to a wide audience, and not too technically difficult for non-specialist performance. Hesketh’s music is inventive and filled with telling detail, such as a reference to the demented music in the murder scene in Wozzeck. Schlauraffenland, the third section, might translate as “The Land of Milk and Honey” ie. a place too good to be true. One tall tale is surpassed by the next, the delusion ending with cockcrow at dawn……..or does it ?

July 2, 2006
Seen and Heard Concert Review
Anne Ozorio