Updated: Monday, 1st September 2014 @ 7:47pm

Review: Polar @ RNCM

Review: Polar @ RNCM

By Steven Oldham

Stunning images and beautiful music combined to ensure visitors to the Royal Northern College of Music were mesmerised by the Polar documentary on Sunday.

Part of the Manchester Science Festival, the 75 minutes were filled with previously unseen HD footage of the polar regions and an accompanying live score specially composed by conductor John Harle.

The documentary, directed by Andrew Glester, was shown on a widescreen projector in the RNCM Theatre. 

Dazzling landscapes, including the ice shelves and sub zero Arctic oceans cannot fail to inspire an audience.

The real stars of the show were the animals however – beautiful as the scenery is, it cannot compete with majestic whales or cute polar bear cubs.

Conductor Harle sourced the score and included several of his own pieces alongside the classics, pleasingly they fitted in well and convincingly brought the narrative to life.

To a sequence featuring some excitable penguins – jumping off the ice and into the water – Harle’s choice of Tchaikovsky’s Trepak worked very well, ably performed by the Camerata.

The fast paced composition was a good choice – upbeat, lively, and most of all – fun. 

The strings stood out in this performance, with the penguins seemingly slipping along in time to the musicians’ movement.

In stark contrast to this joyful happy sight were shots of a blizzard with the same group of penguins – at times in real danger of being simply blown to their deaths.

Stravinsky’s Apothoese was chosen for this segment, wistful and melancholy, yet hopeful – and, when it seemed the worst might happen – they survived.

Heartwarming scenes of chicks seeking warmth from their parents followed.

One of my favourite parts of the show was early on – a mother polar bear and her two cubs on screen. 

Rolling around, seemingly in sympathy of each other, and throwing some shapes a raver would be proud of whilst toppling and on their backs.

The music chosen to accompany the scene made it for me however.

Stravinsky’s Circus Polka was performed with aplomb – credit must go to the celloists here, whose notes were deep and comedic, the ideal soundtrack to the cumbersome young cubs rolling around in the snow.

With regards to Harle’s own compositions, Spiritu stood out. The soundtrack to a segment featuring beluga whales and narwhals, it provided great energy and gave a chane for the percussionists to show their skills.

All in all, Polar was very enjoyable.  Beautiful imagery, thanks to excellent camera work from four worldwide filmmakers, combined with a truly impressive chamber orchestra made for a highly enjoyable show.

There was an underlying message however, with the show being part of the MSF. 

Habitats like the Arctic and Antarctic are unique – and if the ice continues to retreat as fast as it is doing, we may lose landscapes and wildlife like the ones shown altogether.