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Alice's Adventures in WonderlandChristopher Austin
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, whose score is the first commissioned by The Royal Ballet for a full-length narrative dance work in 20 years, won over not only London audiences but those in Canada and the US, flocking to its premiere North American season with the National Ballet of Canada in June of 2011. The production was sold out well in advance of its close and ended as the company’s highest-grossing production of all time.
Joby’s score was received with extraordinary relish by both audiences and critics, who praised variously its energy, sophistication, wit, colour, danceability and richness of expression.
“Joby Talbot’s superb score [is] arguably the best new ballet music I have heard in years.” Giannandrea Poesio, The Spectator
What people are saying
"This is real music – witty, unpretentious and clever, and the extracts chosen on this disc never outstay their welcome. Themes associated with specific characters are invariably memorable and intelligently developed. The suite’s opening is entrancing" The Arts Desk, January 2013
"The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Christopher Austin’s baton delivers a flawless and energetic performance, drawing out every ingenious flourish and limning each individual sound in silver. If little dancers-in-waiting aren’t still twirling to this, years from now, we’ll eat our ‘In This Style 10/6’ hats." Sinfini Music, March 2013
"What Talbot has done to create the aural setting for the world down the rabbit-hole is extraordinary. His whimsical score twists and turns as capriciously as the place in which Alice has found herself. The orchestra produces a plethora of odd and magical sounds, tumbling rhythms that seem to trip over one another and at times, walls of big beautiful sound." Expedition Audio, March 2013
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Christopher Austin
Release date: 11th Mar 2013
Order code: SIGCD327
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.
Musicweb International, Paul Corfield Godfrey
Fool's Paradise, for string orchestra, evolved from a piano trio by Joby Talbot about which we are told relatively little in the booklet. It is a hauntingly effective score in four parts, in many ways even finer than Alice (if less diverse in scoring). Part 1 opens with a fragile violin solo, with delicate piano backing and a cello joining in later ready to lead to Part 2, which soon becomes more expansive in every way and rhythmically increasingly volatile. Part 3 is a soliloquy, obviously derived from the opening section with its changing rhythms and tempi but becoming increasingly passionate. The closing, Part 4, sums up the whole, an amalgam of passion and serenity, with the piano having the last word.
But it is his ballet suite Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that has made the composer's name. He shows himself able to create danceable textures while providing a narrative flow in his music, he can create distinct musical characterisation for his principal characters, and he has a melodic gift which regularly blossoms. He also shows a piquant feeling for orchestral colour and uses a wide range of subtle
''percussion effects. Of the eight excerpts from Alice in Wonderland, the 'Prologue' immediately introduces the minimalist style he usually favours but there is a contrasting lyrical strain too. 'The Mad Hatter's Tea Party' brings in a hint of burlesque but the portrait of'Alice Alone' is wistfully, nostalgically romantic. 'The Croquet Match' introduces the Queen with what the composer calls a scordatura theme, and various characters then appear, including the Knave who dances with Alice, and the Cheshire Cat, who is depicted in the 'purring flutes and undulating lines of the high woodwinds'.
It is the White Rabbit who sets up the Courtroom for the Knave's trial with a fanfare and the Queen then dances in to a catchy tango (deliciously scored). Alice is finally drawn to the 'The Flower Garden', which is melodically the highlight of the ballet. Its striking main theme gets more boisterous (underlined by a bass tuba) when Alice dances a lively pas de deux with the Knave, before the impressive closing climax. This is music which, when played as sympatheically as it is here, stands up well on its own, even without the delights of the Opus Arte DVD.
Gramophone, Ivan March
Joby Talbot is composer perhaps best known far his film and television work, especially A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the hit BBC comedies The League of Gentleman and Psychoville. He has also, however, worked with some of Europe's leading choreographers, including with Christopher Wheeldon on a production for The Royal Ballet of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. A highlights disk of this score has just been released on Signum Classics. The music is quirkily tonal, unabashedly melodic, imaginatively orchestrated and virtuously (because it is well written) accessible. Some might argue that this delightful music isn't properly 'contemporary classical', to which I would blow a very large raspberry. If you like any of the standard classical ballet repertoire - Tchaikovsky et al - you will love this.
Composition Today, Christian Morris
... Talbot's mixed musical background continues to serve him well with these inviting, atmospheric compositions.
International Record Review, Roger Thomas
This first CD release of composer Joby Talbot’s collaborations with choreographer Christopher Wheeldon includes the scores Fool’s Paradise (2007); and their subsequent piece, the Carroll-inspired Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (2011). The scores are performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Christopher Austin, a frequent collaborator of the composer. Following earlier releases on Signum (earlier issues include Path of Miracles and Tide Harmonic), this is music of great liveliness and colour, but perhaps lacking that final soupçon of individuality. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine in the scores being given greater advocacy than they receive here.
Classical CD Choice, Barry Forshaw
From the opening seconds of the Prologue to Joby Talbot's score for the ballet Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, you are transported to a magical world of Mr. Talbot's creation, a fairy dust of notes and colors that are the world of Alice in Wonderland.
In 2008, Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon was presented with the first commission by the Royal Ballet of a feature-length stage work in nearly 20 years. His choice of Lewis Carroll's timeless and irrational tale, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland came about because of the potential the story had for movement, but he also realized the difficulty inherent in relating Carroll's narrative without the aid of words. The music had to create the space where the choreography could effectively and tellingly exist. Having worked successfully with English composer Joby Talbot on previous stage projects, he approached him to write the musical score.
What Talbot has done to create the aural setting for the world down the rabbit-hole is extraordinary. His whimsical score twists and turns as capriciously as the place in which Alice has found herself. The orchestra produces a plethora of odd and magical sounds, tumbling rhythms that seem to trip over one another and at times, walls of big beautiful sound. Listen to our sample track from the CD of the Flower Garden scene. It begins with a simple melody in 3/4 time that grows into a grand and beautiful waltz, injected with some bizarre touches and just a bit of slapstick humor here and there (literally - he employs a slapstick). Wonderful stuff!
The CD comes from Signum Classics, and the orchestra is the Royal Philharmonic (with some extras in the percussion section, I would speculate) conducted by Christopher Austin. As it should be, this is thrilling and delightful musical nonsense, fun for kids of all ages.
Expedition Audio, Paul Ballyk
Two years after the Royal Ballet premiered its new ‘Alice’, the score by Joby Talbot is finally released as an album. Anna Britten finds its capricious, often classically hued magic well worth waiting for.
Providing the Royal Ballet with its first full-length narrative ballet score in almost 20 years must have been an immense and intimidating task. But if ever a contemporary British composer was heaven-sent to bring the zany world of Lewis Carroll’s children’s classic to life - and, crucially, give it mainstream audience-friendly appeal - it was Joby Talbot. Having previous enjoyed a successful collaboration with choreographer Christopher Wheeldon on a smaller dance project (‘Fool’s Paradise’, also included here), this versatile purveyor of everything from madrigals to TV themes was declared a must-have right from the 2011 production’s outset.
And he rose to the challenge. As heard on this long-awaited recording, Talbot’s capricious, colourful, percussion-heavy orchestral score bubbles with incident, memorable themes, emotionally intelligent motifs and witty instrument pairings (the Queen of Hearts is, literally, a highly strung solo violin) and deftly conjures every plot point it should, whilst leaving just enough breathing space for occasional introspection. Minimalistic inflections, such as those in the urgent, jangling ‘Setting Up The Courtroom’, jostle with affectionate gestures to classical ballet - the sweetly melancholic ‘Alice Alone’, in which our heroine wanders lost and pining for her sisters, is particularly captivating, as is the joyful final ‘Flower Garden’ pas de deux.
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Christopher Austin’s baton delivers a flawless and energetic performance, drawing out every ingenious flourish and limning each individual sound in silver. If little dancers-in-waiting aren’t still twirling to this, years from now, we’ll eat our ‘In This Style 10/6’ hats.
Sinfini Music, Anna Britten
Joby Talbot and Christopher Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland represented a number of firsts; it was the first full length ballet and the first full-length narrative ballet score commissioned by the Royal Ballet in almost 20 years. It was also Talbot's first full length narrative ballet score, though he and Wheeldon had previous collaborated on the one act ballet Fool's Paradise. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was a great success, being a co-production with the Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada. Wheeldon and Talbot are now collaborating on a new full length ballet based on Shakespeare'sWinter's Tale. On this disc we have Talbot's Suite from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Fool's Paradise performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Christopher Austin. Austin is Talbot's long-term collaborator and assisted Talbot on the orchestrations for Alice.
In the CD booklet, Talbot describes how he had assumed that his experience of scoring music for films would stand him in good stead for writing a full-length narrative ballet. But that this was not the case, that in film the majority of the music lies in the background, whereas in ballet the music is in the foreground. For narrative ballet, Talbot says 'Narrative ballet is made up of small set pieces that have to concern themselves with illogical, unmusical considerations. You have to fool people into thinking that all these minaitures are joined together'. On this disc, Talbot's suite takes eight of these and turns them into the varied movements of the suite. These are thePrologue which covers Alice in the rectory garden, The Mad Hatter's Tea-Party, Alice Alone, The Croquet Match, Setting Up the Courtroom, The Queen of Hearts' Tango, The Cheshire Cat and The Flower Garden (which is in two parts and eventually takes is back from Wonderland to the Rectory garden).
Talbot's score calls for a large amount of tuned percussion, which gives the piece its distinctive atmosphere full of exotic fantasy. Much of the music is period in style with evocations of 19th and 20th century popular music but filtered through Talbot's own imagination. The score is constructed very much as a patch-work with fragments of melody which emerge, coalesce and then break up. There are catchy rhythmic undertones which are often there but never take over, and some great tunes developing.
The Prologue features a constant, rather magical tick-tock which infectiously draws you into the music. The tick-tock leads us from thePrologue through to The Mad Hatter's Tea-Party which has a nicely catchy underlying rhythm. There is a certain period feel to the orchestration here which is rather 30's, with its use of saxophones.
The tuned percussion come to the fore at the opening of Alice Alone, which is slow and develops into a lovely wistful tune, before blossoming into something more moving, backed up by some lovely orchestration. The Croquet Match is nicely pointed rhythmically and again rather catchy. The fragments of melody developing in an amusing way, especially when the dramatic chaos develops.
Setting Up the Courtroom is again rather catchy with some wonderfully toe-tapping bits. There is quite a clear dramatic narrative which is rather filmic in many ways. The Queen of Hearts' Tango starts as a great violin solo against some strikingly sparse orchestration.
Here we come up against something which was a feature of the full ballet, that the character of the Queen of Hearts and her cohorts were all amusing without that touch of the sinister which can be read into Lewis Carroll's original. This was obviously a deliberate artistic decision, and Talbot's score obviously reflects the choreographer's desires in this area
The Cheshire Cat features some lovely evanescent and exotic textures in the orchestra. Finally, the two part Flower Garden takes us from the flower garden in Wonderland eventually back to the Rectory garden. It is a lovely set piece, with a rather circus/carnival like waltz at first before the fantasy drifts away as we return to real life.
I have seen, and enjoyed, the full ballet but when listening to this score I tried to put that out of my mind and concentrate on the music here. Talbot has created a rather charming and striking suite, full of lovely music, gorgeous textures and catchy rhythms.
The accompany work is the complete Fool's Paradise. This started out as a piano trio The Dying Swan which was commissioned by the British Film Institute in 2002 as a new score for the 1917 silent film by Russian directory Evgenii Bauer. This was turned into Fools Paradise for string orchestra; the ballet was premiered by Wheeldon's Morphoses dance company at Sadler's Wells Theatre in September 2007.
Fool's Paradise starts as a rather wistful little piece, haunting and evocative but develops into more dramatic areas. The music features what Talbot calls 'creaky Edwardian tea dance music, but developed in a very modern way with arithmetical games'. The CD booklet provides a plot summary for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland but none for Fool's Paradise so we must make our own story.
Performances from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Christopher Austin are admirable with some fine solo playing and a dazzling array of tuned percussion (5 percussionists, timpani, piano and celeste). For Fool's Paradise Talbot himself plays the solo piano part.
This is a delightful disc. Many will want it as a memory of the full ballet, but Talbot's score works wonderfully on its own. Not every ballet score makes great music when divorced from the stage, but Talbot's music has a good chance of its life of its own. A great crowd pleaser which also displays a strong musical intelligence.
Planet Hugill, Robert Hugill
Joby Talbot's suite from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Fool's Paradise brims with energy, wit and colour. Performed by the Royal Philharmonic, the aural setting for the world down the rabbit-hole is quite magical. Highly recommended.
Northern Echo, Gavin Engelbrecht
Opening with, in the composer Joby Talbot’s words, “a strange, bitonal tick-tock”, this suite drawn from the score to the Royal Ballet’s first full-length ballet for 20 years is a blast. This is real music – witty, unpretentious and clever, and the extracts chosen on this disc never outstay their welcome. Themes associated with specific characters are invariably memorable and intelligently developed. The suite’s opening is entrancing – a hazy dreamscape, overlaid with glittering percussion. Everything is beautifully judged – the Cheshire Cat’s music is strangely undefinable and teeters on the edge of invisibility, the purring woodwinds giving the game away. The Mad Hatter’s tea party’s muted trumpets suggest a music-hall turn. The ballet’s apotheosis briefly implies that we’re going to get something grandiose along the lines of Daphnis and Chloe, before Talbot wraps things up sweetly and calmly.
The coupling, Fool’s Paradise was first performed in 2007. Scored for strings and piano, it’s a more restrained affair, though no less attractive. Derived from a piano trio written to accompany a silent film about a ballerina in peril, Talbot’s music is melancholy and affecting – the concertante piano part beautifully delivered by the composer. Both scores are given inspired performances – conductor Christopher Austin helped Talbot finish the orchestrations for Alice and his Royal Philharmonic Orchestra sound as if they’re having a ball. All given spectacular sonics, in a recording made in London’s Henry Wood Hall.
The Arts Desk, Graham Rickson