Leave it to Naxos to come up with completely unexpected discoveries in recorded concert music to add to your library, which don’t break your pocketbook. Carl Davis, though born in New York, started out doing music for the British satirical TV series That Was the Week That Was. He did many BBC shows including Pride and Prejudice, and has done a long series of new feature film scores for restored prints of classic silents. He’s been pops conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and co-wrote with Paul McCartney the Liverpool Oratorio.
The Malaysian Philharmonic might also be an unexpected element here. They are a 105-member symphony orchestra consisting of members from 25 different nations. Matthias Bamert is the current conductor, but the orchestra has worked with many of the top international names in concert music. They have made 11 CDs so far and are sponsored by Malaysia’s national oil company in an effort to nurture an interest in classical music in Malaysia.
Davis’ ballet was a commission of the Scottish Ballet. The idea was to create a full-length ballet score on the subject of Aladdin to replace the done-to-death Nutcracker during the holiday season. Davis was enthusiastic since he knew the story was familiar to British audiences from a pantomime play, and it was full of Sheherezade-type exoticism, flying carpets and all that. Plus he felt that every aspect of the story suggested a dance, making it perfect for ballet treatment. He could use the pentatonic scale to represent the Chinese aspects of the story and Indian raga modes for the Eastern elements in the ballet. The Lion Dance and a dragon were brought in as the traditional Chinese symbols for good luck, happiness and prosperity.
The many scenes in each of the three acts are detailed with a short paragraph on each and both tracks and timings listed. Aladdin certainly has a lot of varied adventures that I hadn’t known about. The three locations of the original story add much interest as well. They are Persia, China and Morocco. Some of the musical cues bear similarity to those for a silent movie score, but that doesn’t detract from the charming ballet. For example, when a cave full of gold and silver is discovered a very royal-sounding Handelian Chaconne is heard. The Malaysian orchestra does a front-rank job in bringing the adventurous tale to life and the sonics are excellent.
– John Sunier