Knussen Where the Wild Things are

Author: 
Michael Oliver

Knussen Where the Wild Things are

  • Where the Wild Things are
  • Where the Wild Things are

If you have seen Where the Wild Things are on stage or on television you may be apprehensive that its impact on record will be much reduced, deprived of Maurice Sendak's marvellously ingenious stage monsters. This was not quite my experience. I was rather bored by the opera on TV, to tell you the truth—I was disappointed that the Wild Things, after their spectacular appearance, didn't do more, and I could not see that his encounter with them had had much effect on the character of the obnoxious child Max—I rather wished they had eaten him. On record one notices the imaginativeness of Knussen's sounds more: in a way, they can provide more evocative scenery than even Sendak can: the beautiful arching horn lines over harp and string shimmers (it is becoming recognizable as a characteristic Knussen sound) in the first Interlude, for example, or the lovely violin melody that floats Max back from the island of the Wild Things to his own bedroom. The extended central scene of the Wild Rumpus is both fun and just slightly alarming, as it should be (all the more so for a splendidly atmospheric recording which places you right in the middle of a crowd of grunting, gibbering Wild Things).
There are, though, quite a few moments where the music seems thin without the distraction of something to watch; I could have done with fewer quotations and semi-quotations (Mussorgsky, Ravel, Debussy, ragtime, barbershop) and rather more of Knussen himself; and it is a pity that the only substantial solo part, that of Max, should have so little lyrical impulse to it (the nearest he gets to lyricism, greedy little pig, is when he wonders whether his bed-time soup will contain ''tiniest onions''). I would have preferred a concert suite, in short, but in such a vivid performance this recording makes an agreeable souvenir of the stage production (at Glyndebourne this summer, together with its new companion-piece, Higglety-Pigglety-Pop). If you've not seen it you may enjoy listening, as I did, with a copy of Sendak's picture-book to hand; it will not reinforce the effectiveness of the really imaginative pages, but it will give you something to look at between them.'

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