Knussen: Higglety Pigglety Pop!; Where the Wild Things Are

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Knussen
LABELS: DG Ô20121′
WORKS: Higglety Pigglety Pop!; Where the Wild Things Are
PERFORMER: Cynthia Buchan, Lisa Saffer, Mary King, Rosemary Hardy, David Wilson-Johnson, Stephen Richardson, Christopher Gillett, Quentin Hayes; London Sinfonietta/Oliver Knussen
CATALOGUE NO: 469 556-2
Oliver Knussen’s double bill of one-act operas based upon Maurice Sendak’s imperishable children’s fables is among the finest achievements of British music theatre in the last quarter-century. There is no contemporary composer with a greater orchestral mastery than Knussen, and in this pair of exquisite works he matches the magic of Sendak’s illustrations with music of iridescent imagery, creating characters of memorable vividness: the heroine of Higglety Pigglety Pop! is Jennie, a Sealyham dog who thinks there must be more to life than having everything; in Where the Wild Things Are, Max is the boy who is sent to bed for being naughty and takes himself on a journey to a land of fantastical monsters.

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Both works are voyages of self-discovery, and they were designed to be complementary, with the more expansive Higglety preceding the tauter, through-composed Wild Things. Where the sly parodies and self-contained numbers of the former hark back to Classical opera, the models for the latter were the enchanted fairy lands of Rimsky, Stravinsky and Ravel, but there is nothing derivative about either. These well-nigh definitive performances under the composer, with Cynthia Buchan outstanding as the never-content Jennie, and Lisa Saffer as the irrepressible Max, show how each work inhabits a totally individual world in which not a single note or colour is out of place. Andrew Clements