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Adrian JOHNSTON (b. 1961)
Brideshead Revisited (film score) (2008)
Chris Garrick (violin); John Etheridge (guitar); Peter Dixon (cello); Jonathan Scott (piano)
BBC Philharmonic/Terry Davies
rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, England. February 11-14 2008.
CHANDOS CHAN10499 [47:20]
Experience Classicsonline

The Chandos Film Music series has until now concentrated solely on historic scores by eminent, formally trained composers - particularly British composers – composers of the calibre of Vaughan Williams, Alwyn, Bax and Bliss; and Korngold working in Hollywood, and Shostakovich working in Russia. This score for the new film of Brideshead Revisited breaks the mould. It seems that Chandos chose to release Adrian Johnston’s score because the BBC Philharmonic were selected to record the film’s soundtrack. It will be remembered that Chandos had used that Manchester-based orchestra for so many its film music recordings.
Clearly the new score begs comparison with the music for the original Brideshead TV series with music by Geoffrey Burgon (Silva Screen FILMCD723 - see review). Its title music, a majestic yet somewhat forlorn theme set behind the opening credits and a picture of the Brideshead estate (Castle Howard in Yorkshire in reality, of course), was so redolent of a crumbling aristocracy. The Burgon music became quite celebrated and, as I remember, the CD of the TV series’ music sold well. I have to say that I will be surprised if this CD will emulate its success.
I had not come across the name of the composer, Adrian Johnston before. The lavish colour booklet, printed on quality art paper, showing many stills from the new film, relates that Johnston was born in Cumbria in 1961 and read English at Edinburgh University but had decided to follow a career in music. There is no suggestion that he has had any formal music college training. Whilst still a student, Johnston began to play drums in pop groups, joining a band that would eventually become The Waterboys. Later he travelled around the world accompanying silent films as a one-man band. He has since worked: writing and collaborating on scores for theatre productions, films and TV. He won an Emmy for his score for Charles Sturridge’s mini-series Shackleton in 2002 and a BAFTA for his score for Poliakoff’s Capturing Mary in 2008. The conductor, Terry Davies - who with David Firman helped Johnston orchestrate this score - has also worked extensively in TV and films, as orchestrator and music director on many theatre, operatic, film and TV productions. His dance music was featured in Mira Nair’s Vanity Fair and he wrote songs for TV’s Tipping the Velvet.
I have not seen the new film yet, so I cannot vouch for this score’s effectiveness as set against its visual images, but I do remember the TV series and Evelyn Waugh’s novel. This film is directed by Julian Jarrold and was written by Andrew Davies and Jeremy Brock. Johnston’s score, to my mind, is very much an example of the present genre of film scores; this Brideshead score exhibits a slight tendency towards the formulaic. It’s often doleful with an ever-present mood of melancholic or wistful nostalgia and vulnerability. The music ruminates up and down the scales and meanders, often ambiguously, through ripples and tremolandos. It has to be said that no strong theme emerges although once or twice, in cues such as ‘A Crock of Gold’ and ‘Venice’ something like a theme tries to emerge. In ‘Venice’ there is an attractive violin solo. In fact there are interesting colourations and effects for the Venice-set cues and the harp and piano arpeggios of ‘Arcadia’ are pleasant. In its opening pages, ‘The First Visit’ has orchestrations and form very reminiscent of Eric Coates. There are some nice evocative touches in ‘Oxford’ - this cue has some of the very few upbeat passages in the whole score - suggesting rippling waters and dreaming spires. ‘Wise Old Wine’ is a jazz interlude for violin and guitar. I wonder if Johnston had been inspired by the partnership of Menuhin and Grappelli?
This is amiable and pleasing stuff but nothing really memorable. Maybe Chandos should concentrate on its historical film scores?
Ian Lace


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