War Horse: Original music and songs from the National Theatre Production (2008)
Tim van Eyken and John Tams (vocals)
War Horse orchestra and company chorus
No recording details
SONY CLASSICAL 88697983662 [44:50]
As I write War Horse has just opened in cinemas with a score by John Williams. This CD however preceded that, being the music heard in the National Theatre production of the play that Stephen Spielberg saw and so liked that he immediately resolved to film. The music in the stage production is by Adrian Sutton and the songs are by well known folk musician John Tams.
There are 23 tracks, a number very short, in this 45 minute ‘score’. The music moves for the most part with directness and immediacy. It often dwells in the folk drenched milieu from which the men derived — countrymen from the West. We open therefore in rural calm, with Devon at Peace before embracing the first of the folk songs, Only Remembered, which will be reprised as the last music to be heard, taking on a cyclical poignancy and reminding us of the journey taken, the time that has elapsed and the deaths that have been brokered with Time. The vocals are taken by the Songman, Tim van Eyken who also plays accordion; Tams sings additional vocals.
Adrian Sutton provides a warm string cushion beneath some of the folk songs, not least in the case of The Year Turns Round Again and he generates considerable excitement in First Gallop. Elsewhere we can enjoy brassy marches, the camaraderie of popular song — Goodbye Dolly Grey is the only really well known one, with the verisimilitude of soldierly chat from the cast added — and compressed but powerfully cogent studies of excitement, anticipation, fear. The jagged and expectant writing of The Charge is a case in point.
Perhaps the most arresting writing is The Tank, with its terse, angular, arrhythmic brass and percussion, conveying its otherworldly inhumanity adeptly. The stirring Joey’s Long Night has a whiff of Arthur Bliss’s string writing about it. And Albert and Joey Reunited is blessed by a calming, warm-toned clarinet passage.
Those who are into Topic’s CDs dedicated to music of the soil will recognise the names of Tams and van Eyken fondly. Others who want a souvenir of the stage production will also be keen to acquire this disc. I’ve not seen it, though I want to, and it can only produce a softer-grained impression for me, deprived of the visual experience. Nevertheless it stands alone well.
This music stands alone well.