(Spartacus Records, out Fri 25 Jan 2019)
From the first childlike, mischievous intonations of the introduction, this (literally) jazzed-up version of Peter and the Wolf promises to be like no other. Bringing together Sergei Prokofiev’s classic tale, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra‘s finesse, and former Scots Makar Liz Lochhead‘s ingenuity, this album is an adventure in musical storytelling.
Guiding listeners through the story is renowned Scottish actor Tam Dean Burn, adding to an already impressive repertoire including The Outlaw King and War Horse. Almost immediately, Burn takes firm command of the narrative, rendered in the Scots vernacular. His voice rises and falls with as much playful energy as if he were indeed a child sharing his secrets, so it is easy to picture a young, fearless Peter, “full of devilment, full of curiosity”, exploring the world beyond his grandfather’s house. For those unfamiliar with Peter and the Wolf, or with Scots dialect, the heavily accented monologue may take some getting used to, but the reward is worth the commitment.
The music itself throughout Peter and the Wolf is, of course, just as much a star of this show. The skill and power of the SNJO both accompanies and enhances Burn’s masterful narration, giving even greater ambience to Prokofiev’s famous fable. In a collection of short tracks that blend together seamlessly, listeners meet the jazz personifications of the other characters. The soft, slinky notes of a clarinet represent the Cat perfectly. The lilting flute melodies give life to the Bird. The bold yet sleek tones of the trombones conjure up the villainous Wolf in the mind effortlessly.
As if the musical portrayals of the characters were not enough to demonstrate the artistry of the SNJO, the overall atmosphere throughout Peter and the Wolf is a superb testament. Balancing with and playing off Burn’s vocal prowess, listeners can delight in the Orchestra’s intense performance of the chase between the Wolf and the Duck, in a clashing crescendo of trombone and trumpet, or in the frantic flute notes of the Bird in flight, or in the steady drum beat that evokes a racing heart.
With so much going on in a single album, it can be easy for one element to overwhelm the others. In the case of Peter and the Wolf, however, the combined efforts of the performers deliver a harmonious piece of audio theatre.