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Joby TALBOT (b. 1971)
Path of Miracles (2005): Roncesvalles [17:22]; Burgos [15:04]; Leon [11:44]; Santiago [18:13]
Tenebrae/Nigel Short
rec. All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London, 8-11 July 2005. DDD

Joby Talbot's name crossed my line of sight when he was made composer-in-residence by the UK's Classic FM radio station. Under this arrangement he wrote one piece a month with each piece broadcast on a rolling basis. Talbot previously formed, with Neil Hannon, the pop group The Divine Comedy. They produced seven albums and collaborated with Ute Lemper in the CD Punishing Kiss (review). He wrote the music for the BBCTV series The League of Gentlemen. There were also two movie soundtracks in 2005: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse.

Path of Miracles celebrates and meditates upon the idea of pilgrimage and the specifics of the Medieval route taken by the scallop shell bearing pilgrims. The work is in four movements from Roncesvalles to Burgos to Leon to the resting place of St James (Sant Iago), Santiago de Compostella on Spain's north coast.

Loosely speaking Joby Talbot's music inhabits, at least in this work, the world of Tavener in its approachability, Penderecki in its ululating moaning and crooning (Roncesvalles) and Bax's Mater Ora Filium in its gothic complexity (especially in Burgos) but thereís a lot more to it. There is plenty of variety in his writing; try, for example, the pecked out precision of 8:47 onwards in Burgos. Leon opens with an otherworldly stratospheric carolling-chiming for soprano - this is a breathtakingly beautiful coup and there is plenty more. Superbly marked rhythmic writing can be heard in the light-footed Orff-style celebration of the Santiago movement. Itís eager and rumba-accented.

I should add that this is a work predominantly for choir. There is a minimal but significant role for bells.

When one comes to the last five minutes the sometime complexity melts away. Instead the spiritual centre of gravity of pilgrimage and the sense of tens of thousands of predecessor pilgrims registers with great profundity.

The sung words - Latin, Greek with a host of other languages in Roncesvalles but mostly English - are drawn from medieval texts and the poetry of Robert Dickinson. The words are fully printed in the excellent booklet.

This sincerely felt and communicated work is dedicated to the composer's father Vincent Talbot (1915-2005).

The recording is in surround sound although I experienced it in conventional stereo and as a CD not as SACD.

Talbot is quite well represented on Signum: Mother and Child SIGCD501; Dream of Herod SIGCD046.

Tenebrae handle this work of quietly eloquent virtuosity with a seeming ease that surely belies the skills needed to covey such endlessly subtle and allusive musicmaking.

This is music that will appeal to anyone with a taste for a rewarding branch of the new simplicity (and I intend no denigration in this generalisation). Talbot has produced a work of sheer, plangent beauty which conveys a sense of time-travelling, profundity and disorientating strangeness.

Rob Barnett


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