THE MUSIC FOR THE “BACCHAE”, Radcliffe, The Cambridge Review, 25th February 1956

The music for this production, composed by Peter Tranchell, presented one entirely new feature; the instrumental part had been recorded by the C.U.M.S. orchestra, conducted by Allen Percival. It might well have been feared that, in addition to the problems of synchronizing live singing with recorded playing, the contrast of the two types of sound would be disconcerting. But so great is the vitality of Mr Tranchell’s music that the ear very quickly accommodated itself to the unusual conditions; it is picturesque and full-blooded, skilfully combining an elaborate harmonic background with broad and singable vocal lines, and never afraid of big, dramatic gestures. To name one instance only, the great moment of Dionysus’ escape from prison is underlined with thrilling effect by the return of a broad, almost Puccinian phrase that had appeared several times in the first chorus.

Sometimes the words are rhythmically declaimed against the orchestra; the transitions from this to singing are timed with a sure sense of drama, and sometimes the two are combined very effectively. In contrast to the gathering rhythmic excitement of the more barbaric passages, there is a sensitive lyrical pathos in the second chorus, very appropriately recalled during the final dialogue, and also in the fourth, with its simple and curiously touching accompaniment. All through the play the ensemble was most successfully balanced, and the two solo parts were admirably sung by Margaret Orr and Ann Keynes.

P.R. [Philip Radcliffe]