Carl Davis was born
in New York in 1936 but has resided
most of his life in England where he
has composed a wide array of "serious"
music as well as music for theater,
film, and television. For the BBC, Davis
composed music for Pride and Prejudice,
That Was the Week That Was, The
Naked Civil Servant and Goodnight
Mr. Tom. His film scores include
The French Lieutenantís Woman,
Champions, Scandal, Ken
Russellís The Rainbow and Mike
Leighís extraordinary Topsy Turvy.
He has held the post of Artistic
Director and Conductor for the Royal
Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestraís Summer
Pops Season. He also collaborated with
Paul McCartney on Paul McCartneyís
Liverpool Oratorio, which premiered
in June of 1991.
Given these credentials,
itís clear that Davis is not a composer
to stray outside the boundaries of the
Romantic ó which brings us to Aladdin.
What we have here on this two disc
set is the complete ballet score to
Davisís Aladdin which came as
a commission from the Scottish Ballet.
Its premiere was at the Edinburgh Festival
Theatre on 20 December 2000. The tale
of Aladdin and his magic lamp is one
of the stories from Scheherazadeís 1001
Nights. Davisís take on this music
is so rigidly mainstream romantic that
much of what could be unique about the
location of the story is lost. The notes
say that Davis makes use of the Chinese
pentatonic scale and aspects of raga
music to help evoke both China and India,
but they are barely discernable here.
Rather, Aladdin is a two-hour
saunter of up-beat melodies that faintly
evoke the exuberance of William Alwyn,
the dances of Malcolm Arnold, waltzes
from Tchaikovsky and a few quirky dollops
of Prokofiev. The overall influences,
however, are Britten and Walton.
Which is either good
or bad, depending on your perspective.
I will not equivocate, however. Davis
is clearly a student of the music of
his adopted land and he has learned
to glean the best from them ó as Walton
learned from Hindemith, for example.
However, while this music has echoes
of these composers, it really has no
other distinct character. The template
here for this kind of music is (and
should be) Rimsky-Korsakovís Scheherazade
or some of the other bits of Russian
Orientalism, such as Marche Slav
or the music of Ippolitov-Ivanov. Yet
there is nothing remotely Oriental here,
nothing exotic, nothing curiously foreign.
I found this music highly inoffensive,
all too eager to please, and as a consequence
far too timid and much too unassuming.
Still, one canít really
go wrong testing this music out. At
Naxosís usual mid-low prices, itís a
steal. For myself, however, I canít
imagine returning to this music when
there are so many other works to explore
that attempt similar programs. Even
Carl Nielsenís 1919 Aladdin has
more spunk than this ballet score. I
just wish the news was better about
this work because Carl Davis is clearly
a man of talent. I wish he had more
courage to be daring and perhaps a bit
dangerous. This music is certainly in
need of these qualities.