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Carl DAVIS (b. 1936)
Aladdin (2000) [126:09]
Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra/Carl Davis
rec. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, October 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557898-99 [50:18 + 75:51]

Carl Davis was born in New York in 1936 but has resided most of his life in England where he has composed a wide array of "serious" music as well as music for theater, film, and television. For the BBC, Davis composed music for Pride and Prejudice, That Was the Week That Was, The Naked Civil Servant and Goodnight Mr. Tom. His film scores include The French Lieutenantís Woman, Champions, Scandal, Ken Russellís The Rainbow and Mike Leighís extraordinary Topsy Turvy. He has held the post of Artistic Director and Conductor for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestraís Summer Pops Season. He also collaborated with Paul McCartney on Paul McCartneyís Liverpool Oratorio, which premiered in June of 1991.

Given these credentials, itís clear that Davis is not a composer to stray outside the boundaries of the Romantic ó which brings us to Aladdin. What we have here on this two disc set is the complete ballet score to Davisís Aladdin which came as a commission from the Scottish Ballet. Its premiere was at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre on 20 December 2000. The tale of Aladdin and his magic lamp is one of the stories from Scheherazadeís 1001 Nights. Davisís take on this music is so rigidly mainstream romantic that much of what could be unique about the location of the story is lost. The notes say that Davis makes use of the Chinese pentatonic scale and aspects of raga music to help evoke both China and India, but they are barely discernable here. Rather, Aladdin is a two-hour saunter of up-beat melodies that faintly evoke the exuberance of William Alwyn, the dances of Malcolm Arnold, waltzes from Tchaikovsky and a few quirky dollops of Prokofiev. The overall influences, however, are Britten and Walton.

Which is either good or bad, depending on your perspective. I will not equivocate, however. Davis is clearly a student of the music of his adopted land and he has learned to glean the best from them ó as Walton learned from Hindemith, for example. However, while this music has echoes of these composers, it really has no other distinct character. The template here for this kind of music is (and should be) Rimsky-Korsakovís Scheherazade or some of the other bits of Russian Orientalism, such as Marche Slav or the music of Ippolitov-Ivanov. Yet there is nothing remotely Oriental here, nothing exotic, nothing curiously foreign. I found this music highly inoffensive, all too eager to please, and as a consequence far too timid and much too unassuming.

Still, one canít really go wrong testing this music out. At Naxosís usual mid-low prices, itís a steal. For myself, however, I canít imagine returning to this music when there are so many other works to explore that attempt similar programs. Even Carl Nielsenís 1919 Aladdin has more spunk than this ballet score. I just wish the news was better about this work because Carl Davis is clearly a man of talent. I wish he had more courage to be daring and perhaps a bit dangerous. This music is certainly in need of these qualities.

Paul Cook


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