Sunday, 15 April 2012

On The Move

This is the last post! But the story's not over - I have set up this blog on my own website, so get yourself to to continue reading 'Beekblog' and also to read through my archive of reviews, musings, articles and more!

Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Magic of Christmas, at Cadogan Hall (Sun 4 Dec 2011)

It has been another busy year for Debbie Wiseman, what with Channel Four’s The Promise, a third series of Land Girls, not to mention a top ten album in the shape of ‘Piano Stories’. My part in the latter has certainly made 2011 a year to remember; it’s always such a pleasure to work with Debbie, so when she called early in the Summer to ask if I’d put some programme notes and a script together for ‘The Magic of Christmas’ at Cadogan Hall, I of course said yes.

The concert, in aid of the brilliant Breast Cancer Campaign, was a sequel of sorts to ‘The Pink Ribbon Gala’ which Debbie presided over in November 2009. Once again Cadogan Hall and the RPO played host to Debbie, who called in support from wonderfully talented artists, and friends, to make music, a little magic and raise vital funds for a very worthy cause.

Smooth Radio’s Simon Bates brought his legendary voice and easy charm to the proceedings, introducing the afternoon’s festive programme. Magic and Sparkle was the order of the day, with Leroy Anderson’s ‘Sleigh Ride’ the perfect opening, followed by the likes of selections from Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’ – including the twinkling ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’, somehow so suited to the season.

Stories really were the order of the day though and the audience was urged to step back into their childhoods, snuggle down in their seats and listen intently. The first half was dominated then by Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Selfish Giant’, which was read by Cheri Lunghi. It was a captivating performance, helped along beautifully by Debbie’s own original music. The tears of the lady in the row behind me said it all, not to mention the reaction of one small child half way through which put the orchestra of its stroke somewhat…

With part two came another fine actor, Robert Powell, who delivered the deliciously grizzly poem ‘Jim’ by Hilaire Beloc. The poem, about a little boy who leaves his nanny’s care only to be gobbled up by a Lion, was given suitably plucky accompaniment by Debbie and RPO, who performed Benjamin Britten’s ‘Playful Pizzicato’ beneath Powell’s perfectly pitched delivery.

The afternoon also saw a couple of firsts. Debbie herself made her Cadogan Hall debut as a soloist performing a solo piano piece. ‘Isolation’, written for the film The Hide, is the opening track of the ‘Piano Stories’ album and made a great opening to the second half. Though hidden away over to the right of the stage, the pianist’s debut went off really rather well and the piece itself never fails to cast a spell.

Perhaps even more spellbinding was the second ‘premiere’, George Layton’s ‘The Fib’. The story itself is one I remember from school – indeed it cemented my own fear of the football that was to come in ‘big school’ – and it’s a real treasure. Wearing both his actor and writer hats, George himself read to us his tale about a young lad whose embarrassment at a hand-me-down football kit leads to a cracker of a playground fib. George delivered his prose with warmth and humour and Debbie Wiseman and the RPO underscored with an arrangement of music by the composer, largely made up of selections from her score for Tom’s Midnight Garden. It was a good fit and the highlight of the afternoon, made even more special for everyone concerned as the story’s hero, Bobby Charlton, was in the audience. Now ‘Sir’ Bobby, the legendary footballer travelled down from Manchester especially and made it onto the stage to thank George and Debbie and say a few words. Magical.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a song or two and providing the necessary vocals was the velvet-voiced James Loynes, who is certainly one to watch. ‘Nothing Grows on Gold’, an original song by Debbie Wiseman and Don Black, was premiered at ‘The Pink Ribbon Gala’ in 2009 and is a real winner. Don himself flew in from New York to be at the event and hear his song; it would certainly have been worth it as James truly did them proud.

Rounding off the generous concert was the quintessential Christmas song, Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’. James Loynes did the honours once again, helped along (I think) by the audience; a fittingly festive and uplifting end to a very successful event.

I was honoured to be able to play a small part in ‘The Magic of Christmas’ and Debbie and Friends can rest in the knowledge that they pulled off a cracker of a show and through ticket sales, book and CD sales on the day, added much needed funds to Breast Cancer Campaign’s piggy bank.

The concert was the icing on the cake this year for Debbie Wiseman, though there’s more to come. The cherry on top? Lost Christmas, which premieres on BBC One on Christmas Eve… Don’t miss it!

If you’d like to know more about Breast Cancer Campaign go to

Debbie Wiseman’s Piano Stories is available on CD, or to Download, now courtesy of Warner Classics. Go to for more information!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

On the Desk: Let's hear it for the girls...

This week I’m all about the girls (first time for everything I suppose…) and the pile of albums on my desk features a selection of strong women, both characters and composers, who are worth a mention.

Firstly, and admirably doing their bit for the War effort, are the Land Girls. The BBC’s Sunday teatime drama is just the perfect accompaniment to that time on that day. Warm, cosy, lightly dramatic, slightly comic and with a dollop of romance that makes it too hard to resist. With a third series in the works, it’s obvious it’s going down well and is just the sort of thing the BBC should be making time – and saving money – for. The BBC have teamed up with Rhino Records to release a pleasing soundtrack selection that takes in many of the period classics that litter the show’s own soundscape, alongside Debbie Wiseman’s heartwarming original scores. Packaged in an attractive, though possibly pointless, cardboard sleeve, the album is a little treasure trove of 1940s hits. Glenn Miller’s ‘In The Mood’ is a must-have in such a collection and the likes of Vera Lynn’s ‘It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow’ seal the deal. Throughout the disc we’re treated to cuts by The Geoff Pearce Little Big Band,Benny Goodman & His Orchestra, The Andrews Sisters, The Syd Lawrence Orchestra and the wonderful Connie Carter. The Chelsea Pensioners offer a Military Medley, while The Soldiers open the selection with Debbie Wiseman’s own title song ‘While We’re Away’ (written with Don Black no less). Debbie’s original music peppers the period tunes and the selections of score rely heavily on her winning main theme – itself lilting, wistful and suitably misty-eyed. Obviously I’m always up for plenty more Debbie Wiseman on a soundtrack album, but this package is very fitting and nice product that captures the feel and energy of the much-loved drama.

Debbie’s theme from Land Girls also features on ‘Piano Stories’, the composer’s new solo piano album which hits the shops tomorrow (Monday 19 September)! Now while I may have had more than a little to do with its inception, I can’t tell you enough just how wonderful the album is. The piano has featured prominently throughout Debbie’s scores for film and television and it is the instrument she turns to for inspiration when she’s composing. With that in mind the music selected for ‘Piano Stories’ is Debbie Wiseman’s music as it was originally conceived – just on piano. Something of a look over her shoulder, it features new recordings of themes from Wilde, The Upper Hand, Children’s Hospital, Haunted, Tom & Viv, Lesbian Vampire Killers, Stephen Fry in America and Joanna Lumley’s Nile. It also features a couple of exclusives, including her soulful, spine-tingling theme from The Hide and the plaintively evocative theme from The Throne. There’s even more than that – indeed we were quite generous! – so much so if you go to iTunes there are even a couple of bonus tracks not on the CD. It’s a beautiful document of a career and a personality in music; I can guarantee you won’t regret buying it… Promise.

From rural England to Ancient China now and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Wayne Wang’s film of Lisa See’s novel about two girls who form a deep bond and create a unique way of communicating at a time when women were to be seen and not heard. The film looks gorgeous and its score, by Rachel Portman, is characteristically gossamer and pleasing to the ear. It feels as if Rachel has been quiet of late, so its great to have a major score release in this not unfamiliar vain. Twinkling, tinkling piano and fluttering orchestral shades are the order of the day here, together bringing about a quiet sense of beauty and sumptuous colour. I do enjoy Rachel Portman’s music – indeed her ‘Soundtracks’ compilation album features regularly on my playlist at home and while she isn’t perhaps the most inventive of composers these days, her trusted palette continues to captivate with its delightful turns of phrase and emotive undercurrents.

Jane Eyre is the target of yet another big screen adaptation this month as Cary Fukunaga’s vision of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel hits multiplexes in the UK. Dario Marienelli joins the ranks of Bernard Herrmann, John Williams and Claudio Capponi, to underscore this latest outing and does so with stunning effect. With his score for Pride & Prejudice in mind, Dario is perhaps the perfect choice to score Jane Eyre and he yet again creates a score full of scintillating romance, passion and high drama. The piano features of course here, but takes something of a back seat to the violin which forms the beating heart of the work. Jack Liebeck provides the performance here and it’s a match made in heaven as the young virtuoso breathes a fiery elegance into the gorgeous lines gifted to him by the composer. I’m a sucker for a great violin score and the union of the brilliant Liebeck with the talented Marianelli means Jane Eyre is up there with the likes of The Red Violin, Schindler’s List, Cinema Paradiso and Ladies in Lavender. Liebeck is himself no stranger to film scoring having provided intense and exciting playing on Debbie Wiseman’s Middletown back in 2006 (as well as her popular Oscar Wilde Fairy Tales album before that). Jane Eyre though is a triumph and a favourite score of the year so far for me personally; surely another Oscar nomination is in the bag for Dario…

The violin takes centre stage on Tadlow Music’s latest album, which puts the spotlight on the talented young woman behind pretty much all of the violin solos you will have heard on City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra recordings in recent years. ‘Lucie Švehlová: The Lark Ascending’ finds the leader of the CPPO headline for the first time in a collection of ‘Classical and Film Music Violin Romances’. Two of the scores I mentioned above feature here, with John Williams’ Schindler’s List taking dominating the middle section with three selections (the two obvious ones, alongside the always-hair-raising ‘Jewish Town’). Nigel Hess’ Ladies in Lavender never fails to uplift and Lucie carries it beautifully, while the likes of Rozsa’s gorgeous ‘Gabrielle’ from The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and his love theme from El Cid complete the well known film titles. Andre Previn’s ‘Romance’ from The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a surprising, but not unwelcome addition, when you consider all the other great violin pieces that could have been included. An original composition by Nic Raine called ‘Renacuajo’ is another surprise, but why not, and the classical staples ‘The Lark Ascending’ and ‘Greensleeves’ complete the set on a legitimate note. The latter is actually arranged as a ‘Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra’ (by Paul Hart) and is a premiere recording… Great stuff and lovely playing, as ever, from Lucie – the darling of the City of Prague Phil…

Finally we look to Miss Red Riding Hood, the cover star of The Weinstein Company’s Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil. While the first film tried and failed to equal the popularity of DreamWorks’ Shrek canon, that didn’t stop the producers whipping out a second colourful instalment. The fact that it was shelved for a year or two shouldn’t put you off – ours is not to reason why the wherefores of the Hollywood legal system. For me it was a real shame because I’d known all along that the brilliant and insanely talented Murray Gold had done the music. Not content with supplying hundreds of minutes of sparkling, rambunctious and powerfully emotional music for the BBC’s Doctor Who, the British-born-now-based-in-the-US composer is doing wonderful things for other shows, dramas and – here – big, glossy animated features! Hoodwinked finds Murray pretty much going all out create the feistiest, flashiest collection of cues you could ask for in a fast-paced, hopefully-laugh-a-minute comedy. Mickey-mousing this may be (in part) but with team Who doing the biz, it’s anything but paint-by-numbers. Madcap, heroic, sometimes beautiful, it’s everything Doctor Who is celebrated for, but with a few extra whams and whizzes to keep you on your toes. The score is as smart as it is fun and quite honestly exhausting if you’re not in the mood. But what a piece of work it is… He came, he scored… he outdid himself frankly.

Piano Stories, released on Warner Classics, is available from 19 September from, with Rhino’s Land Girls, Sony’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Jane Eyre, not to mention Lakeshore’s Hoodwinked Too! already on sale. Tadlow’s lovely violin disc can be ordered from…

Thanks to Sony Music, Tadlow Music, Warner Classics, Debbie Wiseman and Murray Gold.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Hooray for Hollywood: John Wilson does it again..

I’m literally still buzzing... What a night! John Wilson has become one of the BBC Proms’ most popular participants, recreating the magic of music from a bygone age before our ears. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend each of the young conductor’s triumphant turns on the podium at the Albert Hall – beginning with ‘The British Film Music Prom’ in 2007. The ‘Hooray for Hollywood Prom’ was unsurprisingly a sell-out, much like last year’s glorious ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein Prom’ and the one that started the buzz, ‘The MGM Film Musicals Prom’ in 2009...

The conductor/arranger’s hand-picked band – The John Wilson Orchestra - features some of Europe’s top front bench orchestral musicians and together they breathed life into a selection of music that remains truly Golden.
One thing that always strikes me about these shows is the love that so obviously goes into them; John is passionate about this music and in bringing in the talent he does, he makes sure it’s delivered in note perfect form. The only other way to experience this particular music in this way would be to physically go back in time and sit in the Hollywood scoring stages of the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s.
Quite an era to take in, but one which saw the rise and demise of the golden age of the motion picture musical, from 42nd Street to Hello Dolly. With MGM Musicals previously covered in their own right and the work of Rodgers & Hammerstein duly noted, this Prom allowed a wider reach in terms of the variety of the material and took in music from studios like RKO, Warner Bros., Twentieth Century Fox and of course MGM. The all-encompassing ‘Overture’ took in music from many of the film titles referenced throughout the following programme and it was enough to fill any heart with pure joy as the orchestra bounced their way through the selection, assembled by Wilson. What a fine achievement it was, and that was just the first piece!
Split into a further nine sections, the programme took us through history, beginning in the early glory days of Warner Bros. and the aforementioned 42nd Street, released in 1933 – about the same time as the birth of film music itself – and moving through the thirties song and dance classics of Fred & Ginger and the heady forties, when the movie musical was an escapist shot in the arm and much needed boost during the war years. From there we witnessed ‘Fred’s Swansong’ and ‘Judy’s Comeback’ with the likes of music from Ziegfeld Follies and A Star is Born, before moving into later classics like Gypsy, West Side Story and Guys and Dolls. The final curtain for the genres glittering golden age came in the form of films like Disney’s Mary Poppins, Fox’s Doctor Dolittle and the final bow that was Hello Dolly.
These musical numbers of course needed voice and the John Wilson Orchestra were not left without. The Maida Vale Singers lent fine vocal support, adding some emotional and uplifting weight to the likes of ‘Strike Up The Band’ and the searingly emotive ‘Serenade’ from The Student Prince. The lead vocal came from tenor Charles Castronovo, whose passionate performance was quite literally heart stopping. He was just one of six vocal soloists to join in the fun, and the likes of soprano Sarah Fox, tenor Matthew Ford and Annalene Beechey were in fine voice throughout. It was, however the efforts of Caroline O’Connor and Clare Teal that shone through. O’Connor is perhaps most recognised as Nini Legs in the Air in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! but she is also a much-lauded star of the stage in her native Australia and has performed regularly in London’s West End and on Broadway. Perfectly cast in the Judy Garland role for the set from A Star is Born, O’Connor was simply outstanding – not surprising given she starred as Garland in the world premiere of the hit show End of the Rainbow. She truly is a little firecracker of a performer and her various turns – notably ‘Strike Up The Band’, ‘Gotta Have Me Go With You’ and ‘Triplets’ – were exacted with a confidence, prowess and zeal lacking in some of the others. That latter song, from MGM’s The Band Wagon (1953) saw her joined by Ford and Fox, each of them bedecked in romper suits, hats and clutching teddybears... A comic highlight for sure.
Clare Teal brought with her the delightfully infectious personality and crystal clear jazz vocals that have made her a star. She absolutely nailed the likes of ‘You’ll Never Know’ (from Fox’s Four Jills in a Jeep) and ‘Secret Love’ (from Warner Bros. Calamity Jane). Constantly smiling and quite noticeably just having a wonderful time, Teal’s natural warmth and good humour was a perfect fit for this show.
Rounding off the endlessly entertaining concert was ‘Put On Your Sunday Clothes’ from Fox’s Hello Dolly. With all the vocalists, choir and orchestra united it served to raise not just smiles across the auditorium, but hairs on the back of our necks too. The encore of ‘There’s No Business Like Show Buisness’ saw a final belting turn from O’Connor, who took on the Ethel Merman persona with ease (again a character she has played before, this time on film in De Lovely). Though we stamped our feet and clapped our hands until they were raw, Wilson and Co. were understandably tired and after a third walk to the front of the stage they disappeared from view. Not from our memory though, as this show will live on for a long time; such was the impact and generous spirit of those involved. Congratulations to John Wilson once again for making such magic, and with the colourful, heart-warming rendition of ‘Jolly Holiday’ from Mary Poppins in mind, perhaps next year he might consider taking us back to the Golden Age of Disney? Pretty please?

With thanks to BBC Proms, Rosanna Chianta, John Wilson and The Royal Albert Hall. You can watch The Hooray for Hollywood Prom on BBC 2 at 21:15GMT on Saturday 3 September. Tune in, you won’t regret it... If you can’t wait, then why not LISTEN to the BBC Radio 3 broadcast on BBC iPlayerclick here

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

A Night at the Movies... At The Proms: The Film Music Prom - Fri 12 Aug 2011

Never presume a concert is going to start at 7.30pm... Lesson learned. I didn’t actually miss any of Friday’s Film Music Prom at the Royal Albert Hall, but I did unwittingly sit in my seat just five minutes before conductor Keith Lockhart struck up the band.

The band in question was of course the always-wonderful and dexterous BBC Concert Orchestra, who launched full pelt into Bernard Herrmann’s ‘Prelude’ from The Man Who Knew Too Much. It was a fine start to an all too brief tribute to the composer, who of course would have been 100 this year, and with the film’s finale location in mind – not to mention Herrmann’s cameo on that very stage – it was all rather delicious. The exuberant ‘Overture’ from Citizen Kane went down well, as it always does, before Lockhart and Co. delivered Herrmann’s engrossing ‘Narrative’ of Psycho. Lovely to have a Herrmann presence at the Proms, however fleeting. The Moby Dick Cantata next year perhaps?

Chloe Hanslip was warmly received for her first half performance of Morricone’s oh-so-captivating theme from Cinema Paradiso. What an achievement that score is... So beautiful; and in the hands of the talented Hanslip it really did soar around that vast space and into our souls.
William Walton’s Henry V is highly revered, and rightly so. The lengthy ‘Suite’ presented at the Prom, rounding off the first half was perhaps a bridge too far for some. While the music rang out, jewel-like, intense and buoyant, it was interspersed with a live recital of parts from Shakespeare’s play by actor Rory Kinnear. This is no slight on Mr Kinnear’s talent, indeed it was a great performance of a selection of speeches; but for the uninitiated and – in my case – the unprepared, it was just a bit long. Minds wandered to the interval drink, the upcoming James Bond suite, or whether the Celeste player would nail the parts in Harry Potter... Still, a noble job and ably done.

Part two saw the ensemble bring out the big guns, opening with a selection of pieces by John Williams. Not a massive surprise for a seasoned film music concertgoer, but wonderful to hear the likes of Star Wars, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Schindler’s List at the Proms. The fanfares of the former rang out and tingled spines, while Potter’s dizzying spectacle, replete with perfect Celeste I might add, was suitably magic. Chloe Hanslip returned to take on Schindler’s List and proved yet again what a talent she is. The piece never fails to haunt and uplift in equal measure.

Jonny Greenwood is a talented chap isn’t he? I was so impressed by his score for There Will Be Blood and I couldn’t wait to hear his ‘Suite’ from Norwegian Woods at the Prom. I wasn’t disappointed. The orchestra was put through its paces to deliver some hair-raising avant garde devices, led by a simple repeated motif in the strings which finds itself bleeding out into the rest of the orchestra. Riveting is probably the best word to describe this music. I always imagine that for a ‘rock star’ composer, being given an orchestra to play with is just like having the most exciting toy in the world; hearing what Greenwood came up with cemented that thought. Very effective and a lot of fun.

Sir Richard Rodney Bennett celebrates his 75th birthday this year. I had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of years ago and he really is a proper gentleman. While his birthday has been noted by a whole Prom this season, the Film Music Prom wouldn’t have been right without a tip of the hat to him and his music. Murder on the Orient Express is probably one of his highest profile film scores and the selection of cues performed at the concert were just fantastic. It made me wonder why I haven’t sought out more of RRB’s stuff. Murder is just such a thrill; a bit camp, lavish and colourful with a period hue. It reminded me of a story about Bernard Herrmann, who at the time said RRB had got it all wrong “What was he thinking?!” he said “This is supposed to be a train of death...”. Classic. It’s true to say the venerable British composer didn’t go down a dark route for the killer thriller, but his tongue in cheek, romping and melodic music is some of his best and the concert performance was a standout of the evening, truly.

Finishing things off, and in tribute to the late John Barry, was a lovingly performed Out of Africa and a barnstorming suite of music from a variety of James Bond films. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Goldfinger and ‘The James Bond Theme’ were arranged together and played with bags of panache and enthusiasm. The twirling cellos in David Arnold’s ‘You Know My Name’ were a great touch and said much for the overall concert. Keith Lockhart is a real showman and he brought a great energy, wit and enthusiasm to the evening.

Up next? The Hooray for Hollywood Prom on 29 August! John Wilson and his fine orchestra whisk us back to Hollywood's Golden Age again, hot on the heels of the MGM Film Musicals Prom in 2009 and last year's glorious Rodgers & Hammerstein Prom. I can't wait! Full report coming soon...

With thanks to BBC Proms and Royal Albert Hall

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Oh it's that man off the telly...

Films have been a source of inspiration to many music artists, so much so it may be something of a cliché for a solo classical musician to take on such a programme for an album release… Did I say that out loud?

Don’t get me wrong, I do think it’s actually a sometimes successful way of bridging the chasm that exists critically between ‘real’ classical music and that funny stuff we call ‘film music’. I think what makes Rolando Villazón’s new CD ‘La Strada: Songs from the Movies’ most grating is the horrible sticker featuring an ITV1 logo and the words ‘As featured on Popstar to Operastar’ *shudder*

Yes, Rolando is the bouffant-haired, Catapillar-browed Tenor who is – sadly – most recognised by the man on the street as ‘that bloke who critiques ‘celebrities’ trying to sing opera on the telly’. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m not a fan of the programme… Drivel is not the word.

With that feeling in mind it’s really no wonder I gulped slightly when I was informed I could expect a copy of Villazón’s album. Joy, I thought.

The first surprise for me was that it was not a typical glossy ‘Decca Records’ tie-in release; in fact the disc is released by Decca’s serious Classical arm ‘Deutsche Grammophon’. The second came with the sight of the rather large set of media quotes on the back cover, including the one from Opera News that Villazón is in fact ‘the most talked about and sought after lyric tenor in the world’. Gosh. Thirdly I gave the disc a couple of spins and yes, you guessed it, he’s really rather good, though the selection is questionable including a few howlers.

Somehow the non-English language tracks work best with the Tenor’s broad Italian brogue in mind, so the likes of ‘Al otro lado del rio’ from The Motorcycle Diaries, ‘Gelsomina’ from La Strada and ‘Non, je ne regretted rien’ from La Vie en rose are particular highlights. The Michel Legrand standards ‘A Piece of Sky’ (from Yentl), ‘The Windmills of Your Mind’ (from The Thomas Crown Affair) and ‘The Summer Knows’ (from Summer of ’42) go some way to heal the accent issues, but mainly because the songs are just so damned good.

The howlers? ‘She’ from Notting Hill just doesn’t work, sadly, and is more than irritating, while the kiddy-friendly ditties ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ (from Pinocchio) and ‘Rainbow Connection’ (from The Muppet Movie… yes The Muppet Movie) are very sweet, but a little too sweet for my liking; making for something of a cheeseboard of an album when all is said and done.

So, peaks and troughs then really and somewhat jarring considering how seriously it is presented by the label.

A noble concept at bringing the talented singer a wider audience, but I do think he should probably stick to what he does best.

Summer heroes...

With July ebbing away and August cresting just beyond the weekend I can’t believe that I haven’t had chance to sit down and take stock of some of the big blockbuster soundtrack albums of 2011. Obviously summer is by no means over and there is the promise of brilliance to come in the shape of Michael Giacchino’s Super 8 and Alan Silvestri’s Captain America: The First Avenger. Having heard a teeny-weeny preview of both efforts I can confirm that I am excited beyond reason. More on those when they grace my ears fully…

In the meantime I have had a chance to process some of Sony Classical’s offerings; a trio in fact taking in both superheroes and wizards. Yes, I’m talking Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II of course, and preceding that X-Men: First Class and The Green Lantern.

Henry Jackman was responsible for Matthew Vaughn’s fitting prequel to Fox’s X-Men trilogy. I was impressed by Jackman’s exuberant accompaniment to Gullivers Travels and when I saw he’d taken on First Class I wasn’t too worried. His music is robust enough, performed by some of Hollywood’s best and delivering suitable doses of thrust, action and drama. Ubiquitous electric guitars and drums throb and bang away, but not incessantly and the brass really rocks. Jackman knows how to tick all the boxes and I appreciate his old-school approach; the orchestra is largely at the forefront with the rumbles, hums and trickery present but playing a supporting role.

The same cannot be said for James Newton Howard’s The Green Lantern, which the weighty Hollywood Studio Symphony who are sadly lost beneath a barrage of drum and bass patches and rock guitar. Maybe I shouldn’t say sadly… After all this is a glossy, youthful, high action, effects-laden picture and such things attract scores in the mould I speak of. It does seem a shame to use an orchestra of this calibre though, credit them with a whole page in the booklet and yet drown them out. I expect it took a lot of work… but it isn’t particularly memorable, unlike JNH’s wonderful Water for Elephants. You couldn’t get more of a Jekyll & Hyde musical scenario frankly… That latter effort is a luscious, melodic, glistening treat and Green Lantern much like the composer’s Green Hornet will likely remain on the shelf and not listened to again. I guess it comes down to a matter of taste; maybe I’m just getting old (heck I’m not even thirty!)

My blockbuster Sony Classical trilogy is completed by the boy wizard, Alexandre Desplat. Ha. He is something of a wizard though isn’t he? I mean he must be the most prolific composer on the beat right now, other than Giacchino. His star has risen and risen since Girl With a Pearl Earring impressed and after taking on The Golden Compass a few years back, he proved he could flex his blockbuster muscle (even if the film didn’t bust any blocks). Taking the reigns from Nicholas Hooper, Desplat joined a small band of composers who have given musical life to Harry Potter and ably supported final chapters of the franchise with his orchestra of choice, The London Symphony Orchestra.

So a score of two halves then, written and recorded separately but together forming a whole. Let’s get something straight, I would have loved John Williams to have returned for The Deathly Hallows but he didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t… whatever. I am however pleased that a composer of Desplat’s skill, artistry and dexterity was hired. Am I happy with the end result? Well the jury’s still out I’m afraid. There are moments of beauty here, moments of drama and some excitement. I think Part II pales a little compared to Part I, which is strange when you think that the second part ought to be more action-packed. Scoring a second half of something you’ve already started must be a little tricky too, after all Desplat was able to set out his stall in Part I and I think he did a fine job. In Part II he really has to just keep some momentum and pick up the pieces and end the thing.

I’ve listened to Part II a handful of times now and I’m still trying to think of a track I would go back to and listen to on its own because it’s a standout. ‘Lily’s Theme’ is haunting yes, continuing the vocal line he began in Part I. There are no great swathes of orchestral power though, no mighty chorus singing out in jubilation or terror. ‘Voldemort’s End’ is little more than a wailing woman when it should surely be a legion of voices uniting to bring the bastard down. To be frank there is no momentum, which is vital to such a film.

A friend of mine made a good point… Maybe it’s the director’s fault? Now, David Yates has taken on four of these films and brought them in admirably, completing for Warner Bros. what was becoming a director of the week affair. Having one director isn’t a bad thing at all, but it does seem this particular director doesn’t have particularly grand views about the role of music in his films. With that in mind can we blame Nicholas Hooper for delivering a pair of, let’s face it, unchallenging, largely unmemorable (save for 'Fireworks' and 'Professor Umbridge'), by-the-numbers scores. Desplat does have a stronger voice than Hooper and what he has crafted for Potter is full of pathos, mystery, brevity and some scintillation, but when the most exciting smile-inducing moments are courtesy of John Williams, there has to be something wrong?