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Philip FEENEY (b.1954)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Music from the Ballet

Prelude (The Cathedral of Notre Dame)
Act 1 (in 8 scenes)
Act 2 (in 8 scenes)
Act 3 (in 5 scenes)
Miranda Bevin, soprano
Singers from Opera North
Northern Ballet Theatre Orchestra/John Pryce-Jones
Recorded at All Saints Church, Elland, February 2nd - 7th 1998 DDD
BLACK BOX BBM1009 [74.13]


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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.

Neil Horner


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