Once Around the Sun Three Billiardman Tracks
Joby Talbot (piano), Everton Nelson (violin), Chris Worsey (cello), Rob Farrer (percussion) & Manon Morris (harp)
Specific recording information not supplied
Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield
Reviewed: July 2005
CD No: SONY/BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT
Duration: 73 minutes
Halfway through 2005 and Joby Talbot has had a very busy year so far. The King’s Singers released his “The Wishing Tree” – the only one of the 2002 Proms commissions for a modern “Orpheus Britannicus” recorded. Talbot’s film-scores to both “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (with its barnstorming hit-number “So long, and thanks for all the fish”, which should walk the Oscar for Original Song next Spring) and “The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse” are gracing the multiplexes (and are out on CD). And Talbot has written music for the National Theatre’s wickedly macabre “Theatre of Blood” – a typically inventive production bringing Improbable Theatre to the National’s Lyttleton stage. And not to forget a premiere at the City of London Festival.
And, now, Talbot’s second album. Following “Music for 1-7 Players” (Black Box), comes twelve pieces commissioned jointly by Classic FM and PRS Foundation while Talbot was Classic FM’s first composer-in-residence. Aptly titled “Once Around the Sun” (to indicate the year’s passage), the twelve mostly-reflective pieces were written, recorded and first played in the month to which they each pertain, and Talbot’s booklet-note neatly encapsulates the inspirations.
Like much of “Music for 1-7 Players”, this latest album shows the calm, subtle side of Talbot’s creativity (try the ‘Vogon March’ in “Hitchhiker’s” or his Proms piece Sneaker Wave for pungent rhythms and something more vehement). “Once Around the Sun” is imbued with delicate piano arpeggios, soaring string lines and distinctive passages for both harp and regular Talbot collaborator from “Divine Comedy” days, percussionist Rob Farrer. There is not much overt contrast in the 12 pieces – it’s best as a quiet soothing hour to regain composure after a hectic week’s work (or perhaps a hectic weekend’s clubbing).
It seems to strike the tenor of the times – poignant mood pieces to illustrate melancholy moments. This is unashamedly tonal music, which is certainly made more touching by Talbot’s personal inspirations. Wearing its gentle heart on its sleeve it soothes tired nerves and sinews.
The tone is set by the very first piece – slow-moving chords but brightly titled – “a yellow disc rising from the sea” – inspired by Olafur Eliason’s “Weather Project” at Tate Modern.
Talbot’s release takes its titular idea – and graphics – from the sun: a year marking the earth’s single transit round the golden orb. February’s piece – incorrectly on the liner titled the artic circle’ (for which read “the arctic circle”) – seems rather too calm and not cold enough for being inspired by ice pack on the Hudson river that Talbot witnessed on a visit to New York. There’s more planetary influence later on in June (for violin), the “transit of venus”, which is more akin to Vaughan Williams’s Lark than Holst’s Planet.
My favourites are April’s gamelan-esque “the first day of summer” (which may be something to do with my birthday being in April!) and October’s “cerberus” – the latter displaying percussionist Rob Farrer’s triple-headed (or should that be –handed?) expertise on not only vibes and marimba but also hand-held instruments, which offers a rhythmic contrast, Talbot layering piano and percussion in his distinctively infectious way. The longest piece is the last, “polarisation”, which brings together themes from the previous months and builds satisfactorily to a pulsing finale.
All the recordings were made in Talbot’s studio and mixed by regular collaborator Mark Wyllie, and appear as they were first supplied to Classic FM.
As a bonus, there are three pieces Talbot wrote for his band “Billiardman”, here neatly arranged for the ensemble minus harp featured in “Once Around the Sun”. The stated original intent of bringing together rock music’s drive and classical music’s lyricism may have lost its edge slightly, as these transcriptions favour quiet lyricism, matching the mood of much of the rest of the disc, even with the rhythms that develop towards the end of “DEAD SPACE”.
“Once Around the Sun” is riding high in the classical music chart; it is rather cheering to find this gently insistent music amongst the compilations that usually make up the list. Perhaps it will encourage promoters to programme “Once Around the Sun” with other time-based pieces – maybe Tchaikovsky’s 12 monthly pieces, confusingly entitled The Seasons … and there’s several Seasons-related works – Vivaldi, Glazunov, Piazzolla and Jakko Kuusisto, for example.