Reviews

 

Irish Timeswriters review a selection of events.

The Gruffalo

Tivoli Theatre, Dublin

You've read the book and now you can see the show. Even if a child requests it every bedtime, the charm of The Gruffalo, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, never wears thin and offers endless possibilities for scary noises and funny voices.

It's the story of an intrepid mouse who, while searching for a nut in the wood, meets a fox, an owl, a snake and the gruffalo and tricks them into leaving her alone and not eating her for lunch.

This touring UK production from Tall Stories transforms a short read into a three-handed, hour-long production without losing the rhythm and rhyme of the text. Sarah Thompson's endearing Mouse, in pink Converse trainers, grows out of her timidity, convincing the audience, and herself, that she's unafraid of the deep dark wood. Enter Rob Copeland (as the three energetic predators) and Duncan Foster (as the storyteller and the shambling gruffalo) who try to eat her, as she sidesteps their efforts.

The fox character is an artful, dodgy cabbie type; the owl is a hoot, with his Biggles goggles and windswept scarf; and the preening, sequinned rattlesnake has a bossa nova beat. But the highlight is the gruffalo character, who starts out as a terrifying creature with "terrible tusks and terrible claws, and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws" and is gradually revealed as a thumbsucking softie. There's just enough audience participation, the music is a delight and the word-perfect over-threes relished the roaring. The romp ends with a rousing chorus of the jangly, guitar-laden G-G-G-GruffalOH to keep the homeward spirits high. Joyce Hickey 

Runs until January 20th

Argento Chamber Ensemble

National Gallery, Dublin

Grisey - Vortex temporum I & II

Arthur Kampela - Bridges, Exoskeleton

Michel Galante - Flicker

Valerio Sannicandro - Constructa

Salvatore Sciarrino - 3 Caprices

Alexandre Lunsqui - Tempi Intermedi

The third of the National Gallery's Music for Museums concerts brought a challenging programme of new and 20th-century music from New York's Argento Chamber Ensemble, who made an impressive Dublin debut on Saturday.

Vortex temporum I & II by French composer Gérard Grisey (1946-98) immediately engulfs the listener in a world that's at once novel and vaguely familiar. The familiarity may be explained in the use of a fragment from Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe.

The novelty is generated by the imaginative whirlwind of sound Grisey created from just six instruments (flute, clarinet, piano, violin, viola and cello), and his expert and highly selective exploitation of microtones, used in a way that almost mimics in sound the visual effect of some strange, deep-sea creature or remote jungle life form.

Grisey's musical processes also have a palpable sense of trajectory, and there's a fine balancing act between orientation and disorientation, especially in the second movement, with its ever-sinking patterns modelled on the ever- but never-moving patterns on a rotating barber-pole.

It was a brave and dangerous ploy to open a programme with such a strong and striking piece. What followed in the first half were two highly-theatrical works for solo viola by Brazilian composer and guitarist Arthur Kampela (born 1960). Bridges (written in 1995, the same year as Vortex temporum) exhibits a zany, manic virtuosity, taking the viola into places it hardly seems designed to go).

No sooner had Stephanie Griffin finished playing it than Kampela himself, holding a viola like a guitar, launched into Exoskeleton (2003), where he offered the viola equivalent of the rhythmic excesses of Conlon Nancarrow's studies for player piano.

Argento's director and conductor Michel Galante is himself a composer.

His Flicker for piano and clarinet has been extended from one movement to two, and Saturday's performance was the world premiere of the two-movement version.

The two movements are like inversions of each other, first a twittering piano experiences soft clarinet interventions, then a ceaseless clarinet burble (achieved through circular breathing) lets the piano do the interjecting. The scale is small, but the writing is exquisite. The effect is that of a miniature aural trompe l'oeil.

Constructa, by Valerio Sannicandro (born 1971), a septet which adds trombone to the sextet of the Grisey, was commissioned for this concert with funds from the Italian Cultural Institute, Dublin. Sannicandro creates timbrally-complex explosions which he allows, as it were, to float, so that in spite of the often high level of activity, the sensation of movement is actually highly restricted. This made for an outcome which was colourful and abstract.The evening's oldest pieces were three of the Caprices for solo violin (Miranda Cuckson) which Salvatore Sciarrino wrote in 1976, taking Paganini-like virtuosity into a world of spidery-thin lines and typically flute-like sounds. They were expertly played, but didn't quite seem to justify their length.

The evening's final work, Tempi Intermedi (2003-4) for mixed sextet by Brazilian composer Alexandre Lunsqui (born 1969), could be viewed as an oppositional counterpart to Sannicandro's Constructa. Sannicandro sounded to be heavy with material.

Tempi intermedi was, by contrast, light, with the emphasis on the variety of processing. The composer may have achieved his aim of a "kaleidoscopic illusion of a landscape that never changes". But the lack of change proved a barrier on first acquaintance. Michael Dervan