Thursday, 7 April 2011

On The Desk VIII

Busy times in the real world have kept me from the desk, so it’s been a little while since my last blog. I think the last one was more of a rant actually… Apologies for that. So back to it, refreshed-ish and a pile of albums amassing atop the table. But where to begin? I might begin with a little self promotion as Silva Screen’s wonderful ‘Francis Lai: The Essential Film Music Collection’ is with us at last. What sets this release apart from their traditional ‘Essential’ series entries is that this selection is conducted by the composer himself with his orchestra. So something of a seal of approval from a composer who is oft-overlooked. The album is a re-issue of a Japanese release and with liner notes by yours truly it’s a neat little package that gathers together the best of Lai’s entrancing and unendingly charming music. Silva have been busy of late what with their latest Debbie Wiseman release The Promise (a typically emotive and thought-provoking piece of work from the First Lady of Film Music, with cracking cover-art) and more besides. Not least of all yet another release from the pen of Mr. Murray Gold for Doctor Who The 2010 Christmas Special - 'A Christmas Carol' - saw Welsh wonder Katherine Jenkins take on her first acting role, so it was a given that she’d end up singing at some point. Murray crafted ‘Abigail’s Song’ for her and it is of course the standout track of the album - the first entire episode soundtrack to be released after four albums of Series highlights. With additional vocal accompaniment from the usual bods of The Crouch End Festival Chorus, the song – although cunningly simplistic – manages to raise the hairs on the back of your neck when Jenkins and the Chorus are in full force. The larger score is essentially what we’ve come to expect, love – nay crave – from the Time Lord’s adventures. With that in mind this is nothing short of a musical spectacular, a full throttle orchestral score with bags of charm, moments of magic and a few punchy little numbers along the way. With Series 6 not far away, appetites are certainly whetted… more to come of course, not least of all the release on CD of Murray’s utterly brilliant score for the Weinstein Company’s animated sequel Hoodwinked Too. The soundtrack is coming – finally – from Lakeshore Records in the US, so perhaps Silva will be able to pick it up here? Here’s hoping, it’s tops. Another BBC series that has gotten people all fired up in the UK is Being Human. I was certainly in on the ground floor when Series 1 aired in 2009 and have been hooked ever since. The premise is fairly straightforward… a Ghost, a Vampire and a Werewolf live together in contemporary Britain, trying to fit in and live as human a life as possible. While its obvious overtones of fantasy, horror and indeed comedy were duly noted, I was surprised at just how damned moving the ongoing series’ have been. Series 3 has just finished here and what a series that was… Just brilliant. The music for the show is composed by Richard Wells, who until then was known to me thanks to his rather good score for The Mutant Chronicles. For Being Human Wells applies smaller scale music, often solo instrumentalists/groups amongst a wealth of well conceived programming. That said the music seemed to me to play quite a back seat as nothing particularly memorable ever stayed with me, bar the metallic/percussive end credits piece. This does of course mean the music is doing its job… With that in mind though I was intrigued to discover Silva Screen were to release an album and I hungrily took it in. What a discovery it was too! It’s a disc full of fire, emotion and humour and of course returning to watch the remaining episodes of the third series, those melodies jumped right out with a bit of familiarity. Highlights include the entrancing ‘Beautiful Chaos’ and ‘Annie’s Theme’, but the whole selection has a lot to offer. This is quite simply just great contemporary TV music with a fine mix of live performances and programmed hues to make you shiver, swoon and giggle, much like the series itself. Roll on Series Four! Finally from Silva is The Eagle, which comes from Atli Örvarsson. I admit to being a little narrow minded when I saw the release, what with the obvious connections and homages to Gladiator in the trailer etc, not to mention the fact that Örvarsson himself worked with the great Zimmer too. A cursory glance at the score credits though revealed a wealth of live performers, soloists and interesting instrumentation and I have to say it’s quite a colourful score. Sure there are some echoes of the omniscient Zimmer here, plus a few strains of Newman (Thomas) and Horner. There’s a lot of Celtic colour throughout the score, which shouldn’t have been such a surprise given the locale of the story (Old Britain and its borderland with Scotland) and the use of traditional folk melodies and such like. Percussion, dulcimer, cimbalom, pipes and vocals make up just some of the many additions to the usual suspects, all making for a robust film score all told. Ground breaking this might not be, but it’s good to hear something that’s had more than a little thought go into it. Of course the director is Kevin MacDonald and his past efforts have always seen cunningly conceived scores and source pieces by Alex Heffes. It was of course a surprise not to see Heffes attached to The Eagle… Small shame, but Örvarsson has stepped up to the plate admirably. La La Land Records continue to be generous with their releases and their recent roster has been typically good. John Morris is included once again with another fine turn in the shape of 1985’s Clue. The classic comedic whodunit is of course based on the board game ‘Cluedo’ and the colourful cast of characters are ably supported by Morris’ orchestral modes. Typically the composer takes the comedy very seriously with brassy accents, shivering strings, some camp electronics and a punchy little main theme capturing something of the mad-capped-ness of it all, not to mention the overriding ‘mystery’. A classic, of course. Another classic of the silver screen is noted with a double disc release of Ernest Gold’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, a film which saw a cavalcade of comedy stars from the Silent Era through through to the then ‘present’ day. The likes of Buster Keaton and Mickey Rooney were billed alongside Phil Silvers, Ethel Merman and Jonathan Winters. The score, one of Gold’s most famous is suitably sprawling with its circus-like main theme giving way to unending thrills and spills for orchestra. Disc One captures the entire score, while Disc Two presents the original LP re-issue. Performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, it’s quite a feat and a treat for the ears. Testosterone is definitely on the menu with the next two La La Land releases, namely Hans Zimmer’s Broken Arrow and Mark Mancina’s Money Train. Both are fine examples of 90s action scoring at its best, with Zimmer’s tried and tested brand of orchestral, synth, guitar mash-up working wonders for the big budget machismo-fest. The main theme, for guitar, is simple but has become somewhat iconic now and this very generous two-disc album showcases the work in its entirety with bonus selections from the original album too. Mancina’s effort from the previous year is of course related, given the two composer’s collaborative history, but it stands out as pure Mancina with the oh-so energetic figures just bursting out of the speakers. Again guitars and keyboards meet full-throttle action orchestra here, but with less emphasis on synth-pads. The composer reminisces in the sleeve booklet about the period, citing it as ‘the good old days’. These scores certainly paved the way for much of the modern film music we hear today and good or bad, these elder cousins are just brilliant examples of action film scoring done right. Finally an interesting release from La La Land by one of the brightest stars beginning work in Hollywood today, Abel Korzeniowski. The Polish-born composer of course came to fame through his staggeringly beautiful work on Tom Ford’s A Single Man and La La Land have released the composer’s music for a previously unknown Polish animation called Copernicus’ Star. The gorgeous little film was helped along beautifully by the original score, recorded in Poland with orchestra and chorus, and the selection released here only goes to prove just how talented a composer Abel Korzeniowski really is. The depth of emotion, melody and colour found here is again rather staggering and I for one am chomping at the bit to hear more from this exciting new voice. Lots to think about, seek out and enjoy if you can. Visit and for more information and ordering information, not to mention news on their latest treats. As for me? The desk is empty once again, so I’ll be back soon with more thoughts on the latest releases.