Zych’s “Alice” Fantastic, Imaginative, Enigmatic

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ZYCH: Alicja w Krainie Czarów / Orchestra of the Opera at the Castle in Szczecin; Jerzy Wołosiuk, conductor / Dux 1249-50

Przemysław Zych composed this ballet based on the wildly imaginative Tim Burton film of Alice in Wonderland. The booklet, such as it is, pushes this big-time with photos of performers in all sorts of colorful costumes and lighting in animated and/or contorted positions. Since the booklet is only in Polish, I haven’t a clue what any of it means, but I know Alice in Wonderland inside-out and upside-down, having been exposed to it as a child of four and being very attached to it at least up through my junior year in college, when I wrote a paper on it for my English class.

alice-4From the very first notes of the “Magical Overture,” the listener is in for a treat. This is resolutely tonal music, but it is as delicately scored as fine Dresden china and written with exquisite care and inspiration. In some scenes, like the end of the first, I could sort of imagine what was going on—Alice knocking at the little door, then drinking the anonymous “Drink Me” potion and shrinking down to a small enough size to get through it—but for the most part I just let my imagination run wild and enjoy the wonderfully creative score that Zych has created. In addition to its delicate orchestration, it is also interesting in texture. At times, the soft winds (low and high ones, playing very softly) mix with equally soft-textured percussion to create swirling figures. I wish I had the visuals for every scene, but in a sense I, who know the Alice story inside out, didn’t really need to, so image-specific is Zych’s wonderful score.

alice-1Indeed, the music is even better than the very fine score recently written for the Royal Ballet’s Alice in Wonderland production of a few years ago, and that is saying something. Zych is able to maintain the sort of atmosphere that one needs to create a dream world that appears real to the dreamer (Alice) but is known to be a dream by the observer (you). Even when the music becomes louder and more aggressive, as in the second scene (possibly the Caucus Race?), the constantly shifting harmonics and almost “slippery” feeling of rhythm keep one un-grounded, so to speak. The fourth scene (track 5) has some particularly witty music, with trombones sliding around and the feel that you are not quite grounded though you think you are. Scene 7 has got to be the Mad Hatter’s tea party…it just sounds it!

alice-3By the tenth scene, we are probably in the garden with the living playing cards painting the roses…or are we? I don’t know, but the atmosphere is right, particularly when things get a big loud and noisy, possibly announcing the Queen of Hearts. The huge scene 14 (CD 2, track 7) is obviously the “trial” of the Jack of Hearts for tart-stealing, capped by monstrously powerful music representing the monstrously powerful Queen. Then things quiet down as the jury-box erupts, the cards fly in Alice’s face, she panics and then wakes up with her head in her sister’s lap (I think…again, I couldn’t see it). But it all sounds like that in the score!

alice-2Indeed, as the ballet continued my only complaint, aside from the fact that I couldn’t see it, was that Dux chose to split it over two CDs when one would have sufficed. Nowadays even home burning programs like Nero can accommodate up to 82 minutes 20 seconds on a blank CD without signal loss or distortion, so 81 and a half minutes is really no big deal. Other than that, this is a stupendous ballet score, certainly one of the best I’ve heard in my life. Highly recommended!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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