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Penguin Guide, January 2009

The music is colourful and melodic, somewhat after the style of film music, but it certainly doesn’t lack inventive imagination. It is very well played by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and the composer ensures plenty of sparkle and expressive warmth. Very good recording, too. We hope there may be a DVD, which would be even more enjoyable.

Christopher Latham
Limelight, May 2007

Listening to Carl Davis’ Aladdin, I find it hard to believe it has not already been adde4d to the repertoire lists of the world’s great ballet companies. It is one of the great traditional ballet scores since Spartacus and it is blessed with a great story from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights that is both familiar and archetypal. The score is filmic in the best sense of the word, and blessed with a memorable heroic theme, as well as other notable leitmotifs, which swirl around, reappearing in various guises as the story moves towards its climax. This is the entire ballet score and not an orchestral suite of the highlights…Overall the writing flows in an unusually assured and fluent manner and the orchestration recreates the golden sound of the MGM film soundtracks. Davis, a fine conductor as well as composer, directs the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra who sound wonderful. The sheen of the strings and winds at the climaxes is entirely satisfying and the brass really create a sense of warmth and breadth. For those who love an epic score with sweep, grandeur and the high points in all the right places—this is a great find. Likely to become a classic.

Arthur Lintgen
Fanfare, April 2007

Carl Davis is a prolific composer, conductor, and arranger of music for television, movies, and restorations of silent films. He was born in New York, but most of his career has been spent in England. In 1959, he collaborated with another college student on the Obie (off Broadway) winning revue Diversions, and when it was subsequently presented at the Edinburgh Festival, he was asked to write music for That Was the Week that Was. This led to numerous television projects, including the absolutely gorgeous score for The Snow Goose, in addition to The World at War, Pride and Prejudice, and The Far Pavilions. His best-known film score is probably The French Lieutenant's Woman.

Davis is primarily known for his unique scores for restorations of silent films, including Napoleon (1927), Ben-Hur (1925), The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), and Phantom of the Opera (1925). Over the past decade, he has conducted biannual performances of these scores with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at Royal Festival Hall. From 1993 to 2001, he was artistic director of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra's summer pops season. During this time, he had the perhaps dubious distinction of working with Paul McCartney on the Liverpool Oratorio.In 2003, he received a special award for his contribution to film, television, and theater from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). Davis has always been attracted to composing music for the dance. His principal works in that genre include A Simple Man and A Christmas Carol (Northern Ballet Theatre), The Picture of Dorian Gray (Sadlers Wells), and Alice in Wonderland (English National Ballet).

Aladdin was commissioned by the Scottish Ballet and received its premiere at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre in December 2000. Davis states, "Every aspect of the story suggested a dance." The story takes place in Persia, China, and Morocco. With these settings, you would think that the music would be extremely exotic. Davis does utilize the pentatonic scale and includes some bland orientalisms, but most of Aladdin is typical late 19th-century Romantic in style, much as you would expect to hear in a typical Golden Age film score. It is overtly melodic, but there are not many tunes that are instantly hummable or particularly memorable. The melodic content does grow on you with repeated hearings. Davis employs a standard late 19th-century orchestra with organ and plenty of percussion. It is effective, but clearly not in the class of Tchaikovsky, or even Delibes. The principal "Lamp Theme" initially bears a striking resemblance to the brass fanfare-like motif heard at the end of John Williams's score for E. T., and then evolves into something very similar to Alan Silvestri's theme from Back to the Future. The "Gold and Silver Saraband" has the tonal color of a Stokowski Bach transcription. There is also an appealing grand waltz in the Russian style, and something resembling a Pomp and Circumstance march with an Eastern flavor. And so it goes. A substantial part of the music sounds like action underscore for a dramatic film.

Aladdin is played flamboyantly by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, which has recently made a name for itself in its series of BIS recordings of the colorful music of Rimsky-Korsakov. The sound is fairly typical of Naxos. That is to say, it is solid in every way, with an upfront aural perspective and no objectionable instrumental spotlighting. The bass (organ pedal) is formidable, but the sound lacks the last word in high-end presence and inner detail, which would serve the music well by giving it more bite. If you like conservative, overtly melodic, Romantic music that sounds like a film score (in a positive sense) written for the dance, give Aladdin a try. It sounds unfailingly pleasant, but there is nothing adventurous here that would identify a distinctively original voice.

Nick Bailey
Classic FM, December 2006

The American composer Carl Davis has recorded his own brilliant score for the age-old story of Aladdin, which he first composed as a commission for Scottish Ballet in 2000. Most of us know the pantomime, but the original source is Arabian Nights, a Persian story set in China with an interlude in Morocco. Davis captures the oriental theme perfectly, using for the 'Magic Lamp' the bass drone heard in middle eastern music, while for 'China' he has braying horns and ethnic drumming for the 'Lion Dance', What is particularly useful are the programme notes Davis provides, describing each movement in intricate detail.

Colin Anderson
International Record Review, December 2006

Carl Davis composed this score to a commission by Scottish Ballet and its production was first unveiled in December 2000. The test of any work of this length, certainly one with several dimensions denied to the listener - Robert Cohan's choreography, the costumes and the scenery - is how well the music stands up on its own terms. The answer is: pretty well.

Aladdin is an attractive score full of melody and colour. It's a grandly traditional work, too, for an orchestra without gimmicks, although the (electronic?) organ is rather cloudy-sounding on its brief appearances, and Davis's music mines the great Russian ballets - from Tchaikovsky to Prokofiev, with particular reference to Glazunov. In addition, some passages would fit a children's adventure series made for television (one from yesteryear, of course, for Davis has written for real musicians rather than soulless electronics!) and his affection for the great Hollywood scores is also evident. He can also turn on a comedic sixpence; and those appreciating Respighi's orchestrations of Bach will relish track 13 of the first disc.

At the end of the 50-minute first act, I took an extended interval, far longer than would be afforded in the theatre. This first CD seemed enough, largely because however enjoyable the music - and it is - there is something rather too familiar about it. It is certainly illustrative, yet there was a danger of listening for the sake of it, and the ears needed perking up before the longer, 76­minute stretch of Acts 2 and 3. Returning, after a few days (in fact), with responses freshened, a similar experience of engagement and wandering ensued. This is not necessarily a criticism of the music, although it can be repetitive; rather that such an expanse of music needs a greater sense of structure than is evident here. Of course, Davis is responding to the demands of the story, and the booklet contains a helpful track-by-track description of events - the two CDs run to a total of 63 tracks - as well as a brief note from the composer of this lively, inventive and exotic (pentatonic-scale) music.

The performance by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra seems a wholly excellent one, and the recording certainly is. One imagines that Davis was able to conduct the music to maximum effect unrestricted by the demands of stage action. This is World Music with a difference: first heard in Edinburgh, recorded in Kuala Lumpur, and edited in Maidenhead! A fine seasonal gift, too, not least as a guide to the orchestra for a young person.

Paul Cook
MusicWeb International, November 2006

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 Lieutenant’s Woman, Champions, Scandal, Ken Russell’s The Rainbow and Mike Leigh’s extraordinary Topsy Turvy. He has held the post of Artistic Director and Conductor for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s Summer Pops Season. He also collaborated with Paul McCartney on Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio, which premiered in June of 1991.

Given these credentials, it’s clear that Davis is not a composer to stray outside the boundaries of the Romantic — which brings us to Aladdin. What we have here on this two disc set is the complete ballet score to Davis’s 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 Scheherazade’s 1001 Nights. Davis’s 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 — 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-Korsakov’s 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 can’t really go wrong testing this music out. At Naxos’s usual mid-low prices, it’s a steal. For myself, however, I can’t imagine returning to this music when there are so many other works to explore that attempt similar programs. Even Carl Nielsen’s 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.

Andrew Lamb
Gramophone, November 2006

More pictures-in-music from Davis in his beautifully crafted ballet score Davis's brilliant use of lush orchestral resources has been a key factor in his success

Robert Cohan's London Contemporary Dance Company commissioned this full-length ballet score from Carl Davis in the mid-1990s, as a change from the perennial Christmas Nutcracker. It received its first performance in the Edinburgh Festival Theatre in December 2000.

The composition of scores for silent film classics has become Davis's speciality over the past quarter of a century, and many of the same techniques serve also for ballet. His brilliant use of lush orchestral resources has been a key factor in his success in both. Climaxes may perhaps come too easily here but the whole score stands well above mere routine. Perhaps most effective is Act 1 scene 4, set in the Cave of Riches, with a set of dances for precious stones, as colourfully represented in the orchestra as doubtless on stage. Its passages include an "Onyx and Peach" toccata, colourfully orchestrated in sub-­Prokofiev fashion, and it culminates in a grand Russian-style waltz for diamonds in the tradition of Tchaikovsky and Glazunov. When the jewels direct Aladdin to the lamp, the influence seems more clearly the film music of John Williams.

Divorced from the visual effect, few ballet scores do more than recapture happy memories of an evening in the theatre or provide lightweight background listening. This certainly does the latter most effectively. The Malaysian PO give an impressive account of the score, and ballet enthusiasts should find this a welcome extension of the ballet repertory on CD.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, November 2006

Balletomanes are going to love this neo-romantic choreographic opus from a composer who was born in America in 1936, but has spent most of his later life conducting and composing in England. Many know Carl Davis from his highly acclaimed scores for films and BBC radio/television productions, but here he turns his considerable talents to "The Dance." Aladdin, which was commissioned by the Scottish Ballet in the mid-1990s, is drawn from the old familiar Arabian Nights stories with a scenario set in Persia, China and Morocco. This gave the composer an opportunity to write some very colorful music utilizing among other things the bass drone that accompanies Middle Eastern music, pentatonic tone rows plus the chromatic scales and drumming styles typically heard in North Africa. Naturally a magic lamp figures heavily in a tale such as this, so it's not surprising that the production opens with a wonderful big tune of Star Trek proportions signifying its presence and power. This motif acts like an idee fixe that materializes whenever the lamp and its resident genie appear. This is a highly lyrical ballet score and Davis obviously has a real melodic gift, which may at times bring to mind the efforts of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Rheinhold Gliere in this genre. Some of the more spectacular moments include a series of very inventive numbers where the dancers represent gold, silver and a variety of precious jewels. Then there's also a lovely pentatonic wedding ceremony (shades of The Red Poppy) followed by a traditional Chinese lion dance brimming with exotic percussion and roaring horns. The ballet ends with a spirited Chinese dragon dance and a triumphant reprise of the lamp motif. The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra under the composer's direction gives what must be a definitive account of the score and the recorded sound is very good making this a most enjoyable release.

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