CLASSICAL MUSIC Pelecis's Jack and the Beanstalk Royal Albert Hall, London

The hall buzzes with shouts, jeers, the odd chant. In the upper tiers, football terrace-style clapping breaks out, others pick it up, there's even a brief Mexican wave. This isn't the usual classical concert atmosphere, but Christmas looms and last Friday's Royal Albert Hall performance by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra included the premiere of the Latvian composer Georgs Pelecis's Jack and the Beanstalk, with text adapted by Donald Sturrick from Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes. The kids may be here for Danny DeVito's Giant, not to assess Latvian music in the post-Soviet era, but the willingness to party is infectious.

Was it, then, a good idea to programme Schumann's Piano Concerto in the first half? Soloist Aleksandar Madzar was impressive in the recent Leeds International Piano Competition, and here his playing was fluid and strongly rhythmic, but much of it was buried beneath a blanket of coughing and whispering, symptoms of inattention. A baby cried, cameras flashed, the orchestra, conducted by Peter Ash, seemed merely incidental, applause broke out some time before the final notes sounded, as if the audience was relieved to have reached the end. In a preamble to the Pelecis, Pam Ferris praised the Roald Dahl Foundation's efforts "to entice children into the concert hall", but might it have done more for musical appreciation to perform something loud, modern and irreverent, instead of predictable, acceptable and irrelevant (in this context) Schumann?

Oh well, what really mattered were Jack and the Beanstalk and its starry cast: Simon Callow as the Narrator, Joanna Lumley as Mother, Phil Hill as Jack and DeVito as the Giant. Given that DeVito got the loudest applause, it was disappointing that, apart from some brief by-play with the orchestra, his contribution was in sound only, but in the event, the star turn was the 120ft beanstalk which grew before our eyes, eventually reaching the roof. No problem with wandering attention at this point, and with orchestra and actors now amplified, there were fewer interruptions from extra-musical accompanists.

Pelecis responded readily to the story's knockabout drama, delivered by the cast with pantomime gusto, and his sense of orchestral balance was precise. Insistent rhythms, repeating string figures, often in a folkish mode, and a percussion line-up that included washboard, all made for visceral excitement. At one moment, we seemed to be on a sleigh-ride orchestrated by Sibelius, the next would be punctuated by something raspy out of Shostakovich. While much of the time Pelecis was content to provide efficient musical drama, rather like a film-score (and that isn't derogatory), a sextet of saxophones added unusual colours to suggest that an original imagination was at work. Most of the time speech and music were kept apart, but the most beguiling moments came when they worked together.

If in the end the piece ran out of steam, that's perhaps because the story did too: now that children are so Jung and easily Freudened, turning Jack and the Beanstalk into a homily in favour of frequent baths seems rather inadequate, but there wasn't much Pelecis could do about that.

The concert will be broadcast by Classic FM on Boxing Day

Nick Kimberley

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'