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Joby TALBOT (b.1971)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (2011): Suite [39.32]
Fool’s Paradise (2007) [27.48]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Christopher Austin
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 10-12 November 2012
I saw the television broadcast of Joby Talbot’s complete ballet of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when it was new, and was heartily impressed by the sheer brilliance of the choreography and the way in which the plot of the original book was woven into the Victorian milieu with the introduction of an incipient love affair between Alice herself and the Knave of Hearts. Indeed such was the excellence of the dramatic performance that the music by Joby Talbot went largely unremarked. This recording is therefore a useful adjunct to memories of that broadcast (now available on DVD).
It should be noted however that what we get here is a ‘suite’ from the ballet and not the complete full-length work itself. The movements are re-ordered, and I am sorry not to have any of the sections featuring the Duchess, taken memorably in the original performances by the distinctly un-athletic but enthusiastic Simon Russell Beale. That said, the music is highly enjoyable in its own right, but some of it seems to demand the visual counterpoint of the stage to make its full effect. There are some reminiscences of other composers – the Mad Hatter (from track 2, 2.30 onwards) seems to have been listening to the score of Don Juan triumphant from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera – but they are never obtrusive, and the music for Alice alone [track 3] has a limpid beauty and real melodic distinction. There are some nicely bizarre orchestral touches too, such as the cowhorn in Setting up the courtroom. Under the circumstances one is startled to see that the orchestration is credited to Christopher Austin in collaboration with the composer. The listener is left in the dark as to exactly who contributed what to the score.
Certainly in the earlier ballet score Fool’s Paradise Joby Talbot shows no signs of the need of any such assistance. Using just piano and a string orchestra he nevertheless manages to conjure up some beautiful sounds and melodies, as for example in Part Two (track 11, 1.30 onwards). The composer’s own piano playing is carefully inflected, to lend substance to some minimalistic rhythms in a manner which sets them apart from the influences of Philip Glass or Michael Nyman. This is really a very impressive score, unavailable elsewhere, which alone makes this disc most worthwhile, and it is superbly handled by an orchestra of 43 players.
For the ballet Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, although the suite as arranged here is well contrasted musically and provides plenty of fun, one really needs the visual element to provide the full flavour of the score. For that reason I would recommend the DVD of the complete ballet conducted by Barry Wordsworth for those who would like to explore a major modern contribution to the genre of dramatic dance.
Paul Corfield Godfrey