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OF THE MONTH
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OF THE MONTH
DEL TREDICI (b. 1937)
Final Alice (1976) (1. 'The King & Queen
of Hearts were seated on their throne'; 2. 'Consider your
verdict'; 3. ‘They told me you had been to her' (Aria I);
4. 'She's all my fancy painted him' (Aria II); 5. 'She's
all my fancy painted her' (Aria III); 6. Fuga; 7. 'She's
all my fancy painted her'; 8. 'A boat 'neath a sunny sky'
(Aria IV, ‘Acrostic Song’))
Folk group: Fred Hemke, Robert Black (soprano saxophones);
Fred Spector (mandolin); Frederic Chrislip (tenor banjo);
Herman Troppe (accordion)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti
rec. January 1980, Medinah Temple, Chicago, USA. English
442 9955 [59:07]
composer David Del Tredici’s fascination with Lewis Carroll
borders on the obsessive. He has composed no less than four
major Alice works: Pop-Pourri (An Alice Symphony),
1969; Adventures Underground, 1971; Vintage Alice, 1972;
and Final Alice, 1976. But wait, there’s one more – Child
Alice, written between 1977 and 1981.
then Del Tredici, considered the father of neo-Romanticism,
has broadened his horizons, setting contemporary American
poets – often with a gay sensibility – and venturing into
solo piano and chamber works as well. He is not very well
represented in the CD catalogue at present, which makes this
Eloquence reissue of Final Alice so very welcome.
for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in America’s bicentennial
year Final Alice is a daunting work for large orchestra,
folk ensemble and soprano/narrator. What makes this recording
so exceptional is that Barbara Hendricks plays both roles;
it’s quite an achievement, given that performances usually
include a separate narrator.
for Solti – the work’s dedicatee – his Chicago years produced
some fine recordings, although his somewhat driven style
of conducting is not universally admired. In Final Alice it’s
hard to believe he was ever dubbed ‘the screaming skull’,
such is the warmth and spontaneity of this performance. Both
he and Hendricks actually sound as if they are having fun,
and the result is a most rewarding hour of spectacular music-making.
is also a darker, more serious side to Final Alice.
Arias I, II and IV are Carroll poems, the text of Aria I
the only one to appear in the Alice story. According
to the composer’s detailed liner-notes the source for the
second and third arias is a sentimental Victorian poem by
William Mee, Alice Gray, which deals with a man’s
unrequited love for a young girl called Alice. Of course
Carroll’s decision to use the first line of this poem as
the springboard for his own verse is not fortuitous, adding
a terrible poignancy to this multi-layered score.
written in concert form’ opens with Hendricks’ clearly enunciated,
deliciously precocious narration of the trial from Alice’s
Adventures in Wonderland. Gradually the orchestra makes
its presence felt, almost as if it’s tuning up during this
introduction. The sonorities are very strange indeed, with
some distinctive brass harmonies and unusual colours. The
early digital recording is detailed and atmospheric, making
it so much easier to engage with the composer’s eccentric
temptation in narration of this kind must be to exaggerate
but Hendricks – who took part in the premiere – keeps vocal
mannerisms to a minimum. She is delightfully squeaky as the
dormouse objecting to the growing Alice and commandingly
regal when the king flies into a rage at the end of track
3. As if that weren’t taxing enough she sings with astonishing
agility and purity of tone in ‘The Accusation’ and the confused
pronouns of Aria I.
Aria II, produced as ‘evidence’ for the court, Hendricks
alternates between dazzling embellishment and vehement outbursts,
underpinned by some bracing sonorities from the orchestra.
After a brief narrative she launches into a variation on
the second aria. This is music of great longing, encapsulated
in the words, ‘O my heart, my heart is breaking’. Hendricks
imbues the text with considerable feeling. This is the other
side of Alice – the subtext if you like – and it’s
we move back to the surreal proceedings of the court and
the wickedly funny ‘suppression’ of the guinea-pig juror
who dared to cheer. Cue drum thwacks and riotous. Orff-like
orchestral effects, through which Hendricks still manages
to make herself heard. One marvels at these vocal fireworks,
which she essays with such style and accuracy.
the lively orchestral fugue the court asks to hear more ‘evidence’;
cue a reprise of 'She's all my fancy painted her', now more impassioned
than ever, with the final cry, ‘Ye Gods! She is divine!’ The
dynamic range of the fugal movement – from the splash of
percussion right down to the rasping low brass – is very
wide indeed, and in the confrontation between Alice and the
pack of cards Solti whips his orchestra into an absolute
frenzy. Remarkably the Chicagoans keep it all together, even
as pandemonium reigns.
return to ‘dull reality’ is followed by the so-called ‘Acrostic
song’ the first letter of each line spelling out the name
ALICE PLEASANCE LIDDELL. It is gloriously rich and Romantic
and Hendricks continues to astound with her vocal dexterity;
just listen to her breath control in that long, sustained
phrase that begins at 3:01. Thereafter we plunge back into
an orchestral passage filled with turmoil and dark discord.
It defies all categorisation, confirming Final Alice as
a one-off, a true original.
credit to the Decca team for doing this piece proud and to
Australian Eloquence for returning it to the catalogue. Not
to be missed.
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