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Talbot: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Fool's Paradise / Austin, RPO

Talbot / Rpo / Austin
Release Date: 01/22/2013 
Label:  Signum U.k.   Catalog #: 327   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Joby Talbot
Conductor:  Christopher Austin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



TALBOT Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Suite. Fool’s Paradise Christopher Austin, cond; Royal PO SIGNUM 327 (67:12)


James Reel in his Fanfare 34:5 review of choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ballet on DVD hailed, as have most critics, Joby Talbot’s score as a significant triumph. I could not agree more Read more with Reel’s assessment, and was particularly struck by his wish that Talbot had been asked to write the scores to those Harry Potter movies which John Williams had been unable to undertake. I had a similar thought as I listened to this release for the first time. Talbot’s work only peripherally sounds like Williams’s scoring for that franchise, but magic, and yearning, and menace, and whimsy (to use Reel’s descriptors) are qualities of both Harry’s and Alice’s story, and Talbot captures these qualities with skill equal to that of the illustrious American composer.


Alice was the first full-length ballet commissioned by the Royal Ballet in almost 20 years, and this almost 40-minute suite encompasses but a third of the two-hour score. It uses the same large orchestra with its huge tuned percussion section and four amplified women’s voices, and, while it follows its own music-driven dramatic arc, it is well devised to demonstrate the range of the whole. One might regret the exclusion of the caterpillar’s sensuous Indian music, which, while less distinctive than say the opening bitonal ticking-clock motif which reappears throughout the work, is still delightfully flavorful. And the contrapuntal tapping of the Mad Hatter at the tea party is certainly an integral part and should have been included here. Still that is quibbling. Talbot wisely avoids the riotous Rose Adagio parody, which depends on the visual antics, but does include the Red Queen’s manic Tango and The Croquet Match with her scordatura solo violin theme. Alice’s solo, Alice Alone , provides an expressive center to the suite, and the Cheshire Cat grins most mysteriously. Talbot ends the suite with the act I finale: the exuberance of the waltz for the Living Flowers and the innocent longing of the pas de deux for Alice and her Knave of Hearts.


The theme of longing is continued in Fool’s Paradise , another dance collaboration with Wheeldon. The score is based on Talbot’s 2002 The Dying Swan , written for piano trio to accompany the 1917 Evgenii Bauer film of the same name. The film tells the story of a ballerina admired, painted, and then strangled by a crazed artist. Wheeldon takes this in a completely different direction, assisted by Talbot’s rich orchestration for strings and piano, to suggest the shadowy atmosphere of the fairy-inhabited Athenian forest of A Midsummer Night’s Dream . The score, with its popular and classical inspirations, develops slowly over ostinatos in the manner of the minimalists. It is perhaps less compelling on its own than when accompanying the dancers, but is still lovely in the abstract, and so hauntingly evocative that it should not be hard to conjure one’s own visuals if the need is felt.


Friend, frequent collaborator, and conductor Christopher Austin did much of the orchestration of the Alice score, suggesting that he should know the music as well as anyone. So it proves here, supported by a Royal Philharmonic Orchestra exceedingly sensitive to the many demands of both scores. There are moments in fact, as in Alice’s solo, where Austin finds even more poignancy and ecstasy than Barry Wordsworth does in the fine video version. The engineering is first-rate and the program notes and pictures most supportive. This is a marvelous supplement to the video of the ballet, or the perfect introduction to Joby Talbot’s music for those uninterested in ballet…though given a chance Wheeldon and Talbot might just cure that.


FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

1. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: Suite by Joby Talbot
Conductor:  Christopher Austin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
2. Fool's Paradise by Joby Talbot
Conductor:  Christopher Austin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

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