R Panufnik

COMPOSERS: R Panufnik
LABELS: EMI 356 6922 65:54 mins
ALBUM TITLE: R Panufnik
WORKS: Beastly Tales
PERFORMER: Patricia Rozario (soprano), Yvonne Howard (mezzo-soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone); City of London Sinfonia/Sian Edwards
CATALOGUE NO: 356 6922
Slithering lower string glissandos, harp slinking murkily, brass and woodwind burbling anxiously with the Ganga’s lopping river-motions – Saint-Saëns’ ‘Carnival of the Animals’ may seem a ready sonic reference point for Roxanna Panufnik’s musical relaying of novelist Vikram Seth’s animal fables, but these particular beasts have tooth and claw sharpened, and are perfectly ready to use them both aggressively.

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Monkey (in ‘The Crocodile and the Monkey’), for instance, only just escapes having his heart ripped out and served to Mrs Crocodile for dinner. ‘The Frog and the Nightingale’, superficially more humorous, actually even crueller, elicits vivid, sharply characterised writing for the excellent trio of soloists. ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’, meanwhile, is the most instrumentally virtuosic of the three settings, the Hare even undergoing a woozily convincing ‘magic mushroom’ episode.

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Difficult to know, ultimately, which type of listener Panufnik is aiming at. Wide-eyed infant? Knowing adult? ‘Children of all ages’? It seems beastly ingratitude to suggest it, but what these tales ideally need is televisual animation to make them live up to their full expressive potential. Terry Blain