> READE Far from the Madding Crowd[NH] : Classical Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Paul READE (1943-1997)
Far From The Madding Crowd - music from the ballet (1996)
Prologue (The Proposal)
Act 1 (in 6 scenes)
Act 2 (in 6 scenes)
Act 3 (in 4 scenes)
Epilogue (Bathsheeba and Oak: pas de deux)
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Paul Murphy
Recorded at Whitfield Street Studios, London, October 20th - 21st 1997.
BLACK BOX BBM1006 [74.42]
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Paul Reade's premature death in June 1997, shortly after Far From the Madding Crowd opened and just before this recording was made, robbed us of a talented and accessible composer. He is, perhaps best known for his Victorian Kitchen Garden Suite (it won an Ivor Novello award and is available on ASV played by the superb clarinettist Emma Johnson)/ He also wrote several other ballets (including Hobson's Choice, Cinderella and The Match Girl and the Flame, all also on ASV) and works in various genres, all eminently worthy of your attention.

I found myself immediately interested in this score for its Hardy connection. The writer's muse was a pivotal influence in 20th century British classical music, finding its finest inspirations (at least to these ears) in pieces like Holst's Egdon Heath and Finzi's song cycle Earth and Air and Rain (music that embodies Hardy's over-riding themes of transience and fate perfectly - the final song in Finzi's work, Proud Songsters, is both lyrically and musically a total (understated) masterpiece).

Here, Paul Reade is generally more straightforward and upbeat but there are still some highly memorable moments. The first of these is The Hiring Fair at the start of Act 1; this is far more indebted to English folk forms (modal writing, morris dancing(?)) than most of the ballet and also raises the spectre of the wonderful, one-off(?) music that Philip Sarde composed for the soundtrack to Roman Polanski's film realisation of Hardy's Tess (of the D'Urbervilles).

Reade himself name-checked the Italian opera greats (Puccini and Verdi) as influences on what is an often overtly romantic style (especially in Act 2) but I could relate more realistically to the comparison with Grieg in the use of folk-like tunes. Indeed, the addition of a Peer Gynt style "folk-fiddler", echoing one of Hardy's own personal interests, and sheep-bells, provide an authentic ring to proceedings. The booklet notes give us an excellent synopsis of the story of Bathsheeba and her disparate trio of suitors but the music is perfectly accessible and enjoyable without detailed perusal of these. Act 3 begins by providing a more energised diversion from the main narrative with its depictions of Troy's dramatic appearances, as notorious highwayman Dick Turpin, at the Greenhill Fair. After an ironic allusion to Hardy's interest in paganism by quoting God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman in the music depicting Boldwood's Christmas Party, the epilogue provides a gentle, warm and musically satisfying conclusion to the ballet.

This selection of pieces from Reade's ballet pays tribute to both the inspiration of the late composer and the dedication of the forces recording it. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia has made many excellent discs in recent years but this numbers amongst the best. If you have enjoyed, for instance, Philip Feeney's ballets (on Naxos or Black Box) then this is similarly accessible. It is above all a clear indication of the vibrancy of new, serious but not necessarily avant-garde music in Britain in the last ten years or so. Well worth a listen!

Neil Horner

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Far From the Madding Crowd

Prologue -The Proposal

The Hiring Fair

The Corn Exchange


Fanny Robin and troy

Boldwood Proposes

Bathsheba and troy: Swordplay pas de deux

Bathsheba and Troy : Morning pas de deux

Boldwood, Troy and Bathsheba: pas de trois

First Harvest Dance

The Storm

Lament for Fanny Robin

Troy's Remorse

Greenhill Fair

D.Turpin's Ride to York & the Death of Black Bess

Boldwood's Party

The Shooting of Troy

Epilogue - Bathsheba and Oak: pas de deux

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