This CD is the third recording of a Philip Feeney ballet
and perhaps the most ambitious to date. The others - Cinderella
and Dracula - are available on two Naxos discs, the former as
part of an extremely recommendable mixed programme with other short
ballets by Carl Davis and Dominic Muldowney.
Here the same team (John Pryce-Jones and the Northern
Ballet Theatre Orchestra) which recorded the Naxos discs is augmented
by singers from the chorus of Opera North and the soprano Miranda Bevin.
Their performances are excellent and certainly add an extra dimension
to the score. The increasingly powerful, if disciplined, approach apparent
when comparing Dracula to the often delightful but slight Cinderella
is further developed in this ballet. The subject matter lends itself
very well to Feeney's highly accessible idiom and there are definite
echoes of Walton, in the choral sequences and elsewhere, and, in balletic
terms, evidently a greater debt to Prokofiev than to Tchaikovsky.
The CD booklet gives us an almost track by track extensive
synopsis but it is perfectly possible to enjoy the music without detailed
recourse to it. The faster, more dynamic scenes are as rhythmic as anything
I have heard by this composer but there is a luscious languor to some
of the slower pieces that perhaps reveals the influence of Feeney's
erstwhile teacher, Robin Holloway, whose recent work, like that of Nicholas
Maw, could almost be described as neo-romantic. It seems unnecessary
to single out individual scenes for praise or the opposite, given the
highly coherent nature of the whole ballet, but it must be said that
the third act is something of a tour-de-force, building to a
climax of real power and emotional intensity.
The weakness, I suppose, of any ballet recording is
that, unless it is supplemented by video footage (DVD has a lot to offer
here!), a certain dimension will always be missing. No doubt, the greater
the music, the less important this factor becomes but I would have said,
in this case, the gain to be had by seeing the actual performance (even
if going solely by the booklet images) would be substantial. That said,
Feeney is without question a major talent in modern (British) ballet
music and this disc undoubtedly shows that talent off to good effect,
but there is, ultimately, nothing here quite as moving as The Birds
scene from the aforementioned Cinderella.