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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

RECORDING OF THE MONTH

Joby TALBOT (b. 1971)
"…similarities between diverse things…" for piano trio and vibraphone (2001)
Blue cell for saxophone quartet (2001)
Minus 1500 for string quartet, vibraphone and bassoon (2001)
String Quartet No. 1 (1998)
The Dying Swan (suite) for piano trio (2002)
6/11/98 for solo piano (1998)
Falling for electric cello (1998)
String Quartet No. 2 (2002)
The Duke Quartet
Apollo Saxophone Quartet
Joby Talbot (piano, conductor) Rob Farrer (percussion, vibraphone) Everton Nelson (violin) Jonathan Carney (violin) Natalia Bonner (violin) Joel Hunter (viola) Chris Worsey (cello) Philip Sheppard (cello, electric cello) Lucy Shaw (bass) Joanna Cackett (bassoon) Ivor Talbot (guitar samples)
Recorded at Winterbrook Studios, Morphonic Studios and Intimate Studios London, St. Peters Church, Ruthin, February-July 2002 DDD
BLACK BOX BBM 1078 [74:37]


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I first encountered Joby Talbot, albeit without knowing it at the time, when switching on the television late one evening I happened to catch a live performance by Neil Hannon and his "pop" group, The Divine Comedy. I can recall being fascinated by their ambitious instrumental arrangements and memorably melodic yet often adventurous song writing - a kind of "prog-rock" group for the 1990s. I immediately rushed out and bought the album they had been promoting in the television show, fin de siècle, a disc that has remained a firm favourite ever since. Only later, when I came to know Talbot’s name through classical circles did I realise that his writing and arrangements were an integral part of The Divine Comedy sound.

Talbot first collaborated with Neil Hannon in 1993 at around the time he was completing his college studies, a formal and conventional musical education that had seen him study with Brian Elias, Simon Bainbridge and Robert Saxton. His credentials were displayed early and the 1990s, whilst Talbot was still in his twenties, saw works for the BBC Philharmonic, Britten Sinfonia, Brunel Ensemble and Crouch End Festival Chorus amongst others. Yet one senses that although these pieces were written alongside Talbot’s work with The Divine Comedy, they co-exist entirely naturally, the work of a composer whose integrity and faithfulness to his own musical instincts is at once apparent.

Stylistically the music on this disc is perhaps somewhere between Michael Nyman and Philip Glass although Talbot clearly fights against any overtly dominating influence. Indeed, Talbot and The Divine Comedy have collaborated with Michael Nyman during the 1997 Flux Festival, a fruitful partnership that won them considerable acclaim. The two String Quartets of 1998 and 2002 respectively, and in particular the second, clearly owe something to Glass in their shifting rhythmic and harmonic patterns although Talbot allows himself a greater degree of overall license and flexibility whilst still laying the inner workings of the music bare and clearly open to scrutiny. In contrast, Blue cell, commissioned by and played here superbly by the Apollo Saxophone Quartet, is the opposite of what we would conventionally expect of a work for this ensemble, a study in twilight, hauntingly atmospheric in its shaded, fluttering textures and delicately hued colours, reflecting a side of the ensemble not commonly exploited and all the more effective for it.

That Talbot is not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve is a recurring factor in these works and comes to the surface particularly in the brief but touching solo piano piece, 6/11/98, the date of Talbot’s wedding to artist Claire Burbridge and "…similarities between diverse things…" a moving threnody in tribute to Fred Hutchins Hodder, a twenty year old violinist and mathematician who died tragically between Christmas and New Year 2001 whilst a student at Pembroke College, Cambridge.

The Dying Swan stands apart from the other works on the disc both in terms of its length, a three movement suite extending to around thirty five minutes, and also in its conception as a score to accompany the 1916 silent film of the same name by the Russian Yevgeny Bauer, the music originating as a commission from the British Film Institute. Talbot weaves music of real beauty here, often with the simplest of material that he develops with a transparent and logical ingenuity, yet the underlying pathos and ultimate tragedy of the film is certainly not lost in the more dramatic moments of the music. Most striking of all perhaps, the suite commanded my attention for its entire span, an accolade that certainly cannot be applied to every contemporary score of this scale I hear these days.

Without exception the performances of all of these works are exemplary. I have already singled out the Apollo Saxophone Quartet but the contribution of The Duke Quartet is also of the highest quality, the recorded sound rich with a resonance (presumably studio aided) that is, nevertheless, perfect for the textures of these particular chamber ensembles.

If I had to name a young composer who summed up the post modernist musical ethic then it would be Joby Talbot. Versatile, emotionally transparent, thought provoking and above all enjoyable and accessible without personal or artistic compromise. What emerges is a musical renaissance man, a genuine voice for the new millennium in its dawning years.

Christopher Thomas



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