Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber and his brother, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, have not always seen eye to eye, and that is not solely due to their relative stature. Once in a while though, they join forces; on occasion, Julian somewhat begrudgingly has taken time off from performing serious new music, such as that by Gavin Bryars, or essaying the great classics of the cello in order to pay homage to the enormously popular music of his older brother. Phantasia is just such a project, and here Julian Lloyd Webber is joined by the redoubtable Sarah Chang in a sinfonia concertante-styled piece based after Andrew's The Phantom of the Opera, or just "Phantom" to those who love it.
Sarah Chang and Julian Lloyd Webber sound great in everything they do, both apart and together, on this recording. In terms of tone, expression, and the manner in which they combine their efforts, both sound like a million dollars, and would doubtless produce a terrific performance of, say, the Brahms Double Concerto if employed to do so. Arranger Geoffrey Alexander also provides a colorful and variably scored realization of the themes from "Phantom," at least for the opening 19 minutes of the piece, and one begins to wonder if this might not be the Andrew Lloyd Webber recording for those of us who do not like his music. It briefly falls into the sap during the twentieth minute or so, but quickly redeems itself with a strikingly thorny section reminiscent of Bartók. Alas, after that it is back into the molasses, and this is where the Phantasia spends its remaining 15 minutes of its time, in a passage that seems interminable. In a blindfold test, this section of the work even elicited responses from one diehard fan of the original show ranging from "ewww" to "yuck."
The filler is a suite for orchestra based on Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest stage work, The Woman in White. The tunes are not memorable and the orchestration is as flat as the rock in Flat Rock, MI. Hopefully EMI will find more interesting things for Julian Lloyd Webber to do in the course of their association, in the meantime those who wish to partake of Phantasia may want to bring along some insulin and Dramamine, as this is one bathetic and saccharine voyage liable to leave the listener seasick.