Monday, 6 July 2009

On The Desk IV

Time once again to forage amongst the heap of CDs atop my horizontal work platform (aka the desk). I say ‘heap’… it’s more a molehill, and I won’t make a mountain out of it. It was a tricky decision as to what to shout about in this, the fourth instalment of ‘On The Desk’, but I feel I’ve plucked a good variety out of the heaplette.

I had planned on going into raptures about Richard Wells’ impressive feature score for Mutant Chronicles, however in extolling its virtues to a colleague last week I managed to leave said disc behind. So without the album here to refer to, all I can say is the score is really rather good. With orchestrations by Benjamin Wallfisch, the sound is robust and indeed fully orchestral with enough clout to stand out from the crowd. Whilst Wells isn’t perhaps the most recognisable name in film music right now, I expect he will be in time to come and thanks no doubt to turns such as this. On the small screen Wells has been responsible for the likes of the BBC’s brilliant fantasy/comedy/horror/drama/thing Being Human and I’m certainly keen to hear more.

So to the albums I didn’t abandon… First up is Bear McCreary’s Caprica; an album from La La Land Records containing the composer’s score for the pilot episode of this new sci-fi series from the makers of Battlestar Galactica. McCreary has enjoyed a large fan following thanks to his turn on the latter series, spawning a couple of albums and even a few live performances in Los Angeles over the years. Caprica couldn’t be more different to the solid tribal/rock-tinged hues of Battlestar though, as this new creation – set fifty years prior to the events of that series – is plainly more desolate, as two families on the titular planet bare witness to the events that lead to their society’s downfall. Stripping back the sound he created over four seasons of Battlestar, McCreary shifts his focus on a more minimalist palette, creating a frenetic and at times emotional score for the first part of what is essentially a tragedy. In many ways it’s a familiar sound, with echoes of Glass in the repeated patterns, while the passages of strings, woods and harp (e.g. ‘Grieving’) instantly remind me of Goldsmith’s brilliant Hollow Man. Around this there are hints of the music that will follow – temporally – in Battlestar Galactica as McCreary adds kinetic rhythm and such to cues like ‘Terrorism On The Lev’ and ‘Cybernetic Life Form Node’ (two of the very few up-tempo numbers on the disc). It’s a fitting sound for the setting though I think, and the sort of vacuous future-world score we’ve grown accustomed to in many respects, but no less effective. The series itself is set to air from January 2010, so it will be interesting to see where the music goes in the larger story; one thing is for sure, it’s off to a strong start with the Hollywood Studio Symphony at the helm and Bear McCreary’s engaging music at its heart.

Up next an interesting trio of television films, screened earlier this year on Channel Four. Red Riding saw a sprawling fictitious account of the investigation into the Yorkshire Moors murders that gripped the attention of the nation in the 1970s and early 1980s. David Peace’s novel was re-imaged in three parts and by three different directors, each taking on the story and characters as they found themselves in 1974, 1980 and 1983. Each director utilised a different composer for their individual stories and as such Silva Screen has presented this musical triptych on CD. Award-winning British composer Adrian Johnston teamed up with regular director collaborator Julian Jarrold for the first part and set the scene with a visceral, edgy score, supported by a very listenable guitar theme for the ‘Eddie’, and later ‘Paula’ (with added cello). Six years later and we’re in the company of director James Marsh, who engaged composer Dickon Hinchliffe to continue the story musically. Hinchliffe, who scored the British comedy Keeping Mum and, more recently, the Dustin Hoffman/Emma Thompson romantic drama Last Chance Harvey, provides a slightly more engaging score for the second part. Opting for a more immediate orchestral tone, the composer peppers his score with light, almost jazz-like percussion as well as edgier tones (achieved with ambient effects and cello) in the likes of ‘The Karachi Club’. Once again it is one central theme which takes the weight of the music, though more so than Johnston. Finally it’s the turn of seasoned film and television composer Barrington Pheloung, who teamed up once again with Hilary and Jackie director Anand Tucker for the third and final part – 1983. As you might expect, strings play a central role here and the sound – courtesy of the London Metropolitan Orchestra – is fuller than the previous scores. Certainly the more traditional of the three, it is however far less engaging than say Hinchliffe’s effort which manages to carry the weight of the drama, while at the same time remaining fresh and interesting. Pheloung’s contribution is weighty enough and acts as a serious closing statement for the trio of scores. It is of course a fine score in and of itself, with ‘Love Theme’ the highlight. A printing error on the reverse of the album cover almost saw me make a silly error myself, as I went to track 25 thinking it was the first of Pheloung’s cues – I began writing about how similar his work was to Hinchliffe’s; of course it was Hinchliffe! Track 26 is the start of Pheloung’s score… That typo aside, this is largely a fine release from Silva and while my attention wandered occasionally the three scores sit alongside one another quite successfully.

One of the newest additions to my collection is an album from French violinist Laurent Korcia, who was signed to EMI earlier this year. His first album for them, entitled simply Cinema, sees the handsome virtuoso perform – you guessed it – music from the movies. That said, the link is fairly tenuous as the majority of the pieces are existing classical compositions used in films. However, the selection isn’t your everyday ‘Music from the Movies’ classical set, and there are enough original score pieces thrown in to make it an all round listen I’d say. The appearance of two compositions by Korcia himself cshift the overall concept of the album yet again to perhaps one of ‘showpiece’ rather than an out and out homage to film music. This is cinematic music then, rather than music of the cinema. Checking the original score boxes are the usual suspects, with Williams’ Schindler’s List and Morricone’s Cinema Paradiso – two of film music’s finest violin-centred works – at the top of the pile. Schifrin’s Mission Impossible is given an interesting arrangement with rhythm provided by accordion no less, while Mancini’s Moon River and Rota’s ‘Speak Softly Love’ from The Godfather complete the familiar selection. Two pieces from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess – of course filmed in 1959 by Otto Preminger – will please the crossover crowd, while the likes of Chaplin’s ‘Smile’ and ‘Weeping Willows’ from Modern Times and A King in New York are an original thought. ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come’, featuring vocals by Camille, closes the album and is a nice touch, giving the selection even more variety. Compositions by the likes of Saint-Saens, Vivaldi, Provost and Grappelli – amongst others – complete the line-up and of course largely fill it. There’s no denying Korcia’s talent though and his performances throughout are nothing short of beautiful. You can forgive EMI for wanting to show off their new signing and what better way to do it than with music of cinematic proportions.

Finally Sony Classical have released a follow-up CD set to last year’s Classic Cinema. I reviewed the first three-disc collection for Music from the and I recall being somewhat taken aback as the release was identical to that of Classic FM at the Movies. I relented somewhat, in hindsight, given that listeners outside of the UK might not be familiar with the British Classical music station, the Sony release perhaps being aimed at a more international market. This new release, entitled Classic Cinema Part 2, once again treads on the toes of Classic FM as it features, track for track and disc for disc, the exact same line-up as the station’s own follow-up set Classic FM at the Movies: The Sequel. I am still somewhat irritated by the complete lack of thought Sony seem to give the – okay let’s face it, gullable – British public. There will be many people who will see this nicely packaged set and think ‘Ooh that looks good, I’ll buy it’ only to discover they already own it in a different guise. Perhaps they’re just a bit thick if they do… Buyer state of mind aside, the selection – if you don’t already have it – is very fine indeed and rather all encompassing. It is of course a crowd pleasing playlist, perfect – funnily enough – for Classic FM fans who constantly request music from Pirates of the Caribbean, Superman, Captain Correlli’s Mandolin, Jurassic Park, Braveheart and Pride and Prejudice on a daily basis… and funnily enough they’re all present and correct here. Once again it’s a mixture of RPO, RSNO, City of Prague Philharmonic and original soundtrack recordings, with the usual suspects joined by similarly hued numbers – like Portman’s Emma, Goodwin’s Where Eagle’s Dare, Zimmer’s The Da Vinci Code, Doyle’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Goldsmith’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. What more can I say… Lap it up if you don’t own the aforementioned Classic FM release, grab it if you’re new to this lark, otherwise there’s nothing to see here.

Mutant Chronicles and Red Riding are available from, with Caprica available now from Sony Classical’s Classic Cinema 2 can be found in all the usual places and Laurent Korcia’s Cinema album goes on worldwide release on July 28th, courtesy of EMI.

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