CD Review: Alan John, Theatre Music (Australia)

This new album compiles a range of compositions for theatre by Alan John. The works are commissions from Company B Belvoir St, Sydney Theatre Company and Bell Shakespeare and range from incidental music to settings for Shakespearean songs. Along the way, one gets to hear snippets of play text read by Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchett, Bille Brown and Jane Menelaus, but the beginning of the album is somewhat untheatrical. Many of the tracks are one to two minutes long and I initially wondered whether the breadth of the album was detracting from its possible depth. A couple of compositions tended towards kitsch synths that sounded like poor imitations of Philip Glass and Angelo Badalamenti respectively. Having said that, the music improves further into the album with John dancing across genres, the tonality becoming less derivative and some far more engaging works being the result. By the end, the theatricality and musicality of the album is clearer and its success as a homogenous conglomeration of heterogeneous compositions is assured. Nevertheless, the album is perhaps best considered a document of an important Australian theatre composer’s work, rather than as a work in its own right. For those of us who have never had the chance to hear John’s music in the context it was intended for, this compilation is a very good opportunity to catch up.