This is not a soundtrack album, though it feels like it could be one, and reportedly plans are afoot to base a film on the album. Perhaps not coincidentally its 44 minute running time would translate perfectly to a one hour running slot (with commercials) on American television. Composer Paul K Joyce meanwhile may not be a famous name, but he has scored various television productions including Bob The Builder and the BAFTA nominated The Worst Witch as well as recent live theatrical productions, Frankenstein – The Creation and Quatermass and The Pit. These twin successes in children's entertainment and Gothic fantasy provide a strong grounding for a story which encompasses both, a contemporary interpretation of the classic Hans Anderson fairytale.
This Snow Queen is, as described on the cover of the booklet, "A magical adventure told through songs, poems, narration". In form it is somewhere between such narrated fairytales as Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf (and more recently Debbie Wiseman's adaptations of Oscar Wilde fables), a children's opera and a cantata akin to Alexander Nevsky (again by Prokofiev, adapted from his score for the film of the same name).
The story follows the outline of Hans Anderson's tale closely, and unfolds over 19 tracks through narration by Juliet Stevenson, orchestral songs with words from various sources, including from the composer himself, and selected poems from such romantic writers as Byron, Shelley, and Christina Rosetti. It is all very Gothic and should strongly appeal to romantically minded older children who might find themselves dressing in black and listening to their parents' All About Eve albums.
The story moves from sombre, mournful early sections, inevitably concerned with death and mortality, through to more uplifting later sections: as the booklet says, "The Snow Queen is a powerful story of spiritual optimism tempered with fantasy and tragedy. It is above all a celebration of childhood, innocence and the power of love to transcend evil and death."
The music, strongly in the English tonal 20th century classical tradition with a dash of modern British stage musical, is filled with strong melodies and some particularly expressive choral writing. In film music terms one might think of Christopher Gunning or Patrick Doyle, or even the British musical reply to John Williams' Harry Potter soundtracks. The narration by Juliet Stevenson is especially atmospheric and evocative in the darkly beautiful poetry, the young stars are both very well cast and Claire Guy makes for a chilling Snow Queen. The final 'Snow Queen Suite' is an almost seven minute instrumental which effectively acts as an end title but may as well be an overture, and should find a welcome home with fans of lushly romantic film scoring.
Memorable, melodic musical drama on a large scale, and a perfect Christmas present for musically minded young Potter/Narnia/Rings fans. Though they might have to watch out, as their parents may be borrowing it quiet frequently.
The Snow Queen is to be performed live in London with the RPO and Juliet Stevenson on the 9thand 10th December 2004 at 7.30pm at Cadogan Hall, Sloane Terrace, London SW3.