Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed – BBC Concert Orchestra

Le tombeau de Couperin – Prelude
Gavin Higgins
Beano Concerto – concerto for percussion and orchestra (world première)
Dobrinka Tabakova
Orpheus’ Comet
Nancy Galbraith
A Festive Violet Pulse
Romeo and Juliet, Suite No.2, Montagues and Capulets
Arturo Marquez
Conga el fuego nuevo
Rob Lord and Graham Kearns (arr. Stephen Whibley)
Dennis & Gnasher: Unleashed music

Asha Sthanakiya (Beano Bedtime Reader)
Nina Wadia (‘Groan Up’ Mother)
Colin Currie (Percussion)

BBC Concert Orchestra
George Jackson

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 3 June, 2023
Venue: Royal Festival Hall

The Beano is 85-years old on 30 July, and since November 2017 its immortal creations, Dennis and Gnasher have starred in their own animation on CBBC Dennis & Gnasher: Unleashed. Cue a madcap 75-minutes on the Royal Festival Hall stage with members of the BBC Concert Orchestra in various clothing items of red, black or stripes in honour of Dennis the Menace himself. On stage left, there was a neon delineated bedroom with Dennis and Gnasher posters on the wall. This was the domain of Asha Sthanakiya, who epitomises the young Beano readership. She tells us about her heroes, clutching a fluffy Gnasher that she won’t go to sleep without, despite the protestations by her mother, Nina Wada (or – as the cast sheet has it, in Beano-ese, ‘Groan Up’).

It was Ravel’s magical orchestration that got us in the mood (given a naughty child it might have been something from L’enfant et les sortilèges, but it happened to be the exquisite opening to Le tombeau de Couperin). Above the orchestra, a large screen had seven ‘windows’ which displayed images: mainly, at first, cartoon drawings of characters and the Bash Street School, and later scenes from the CBBC show, including the story of Gnasher swallowing a saxophone, which led finally to choosing the drums as his instrument of choice.

It was that storyline that introduced the final movement of Gavin Higgins’ Beano Concerto, which – in time-honoured fashion (think of Mozart symphonic movements placed separately in concerts) – appeared in its three constituent movements interspersed with other business. Colin Currie was definitely channelling Dennis in his red-and-black striped top. He had three percussion stations – marimba and wood blocks; tin cans (red and black) and upturned plastic buckets of differing sizes; and, finally, a vibraphone. The first movement accompanied the story of a reluctant Dennis being forced back to school after the holidays. The middle movement seemed most inventive on cans and upturned buckets, with nested, curved cymbals for added splash, and a cadenza, on the same kit, introduced the final movement. Hopefully it’s not an occasional piece and that the Beano connection doesn’t hamper its progress. Currie made it look effortless. The Beano Concerto will be broadcast at a future date on Radio 3, and going forward, on BBC Sounds.

Three other modern pieces, all in riotous vein, joined Prokofiev’s conflation for his Suite from Romeo and Juliet: Montagues and Capulets most notable for its tenor saxophone solo. Dobrinka Tabakova’s Orpheus’ Comet was a BBCCO commission from 2017, while Nancy Galbraith’s vibrant and irrepressible A Festive Violet Pulse (1998) and Arturo Marquez’s 2005 Conga el fuego nuevo are slightly older. The latter was the excuse for Nina to – Pied Piper-like – collect legions of children as she conga-ed up and down the stalls’ aisles.

Oh, and there was some audience participation too: a couple of renditions of the Bash Street School song as conjured up by Dennis and friends: the Dinmakers.

Somewhat over the intended age range, I have to say I really enjoyed myself. It’s great to see the Royal Festival Hall full of kids enjoying orchestral music. George Jackson kept everything on track, and there were five cameras to capture orchestral close-ups on the big screen (even if not quite synchronised with the live sound).

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