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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

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Richard HARVEY (b.1953)
The Great Within: The Forbidden City
Music score for a film by Francis Gerard
Unnamed orchestra/Richard Harvey
rec. 2004, location not specified
ALTUS ALU0005CD [60:21]

This film was made in Beijing by Discovery Channel Pictures. Instead of a simple tour of Beijing’s Forbidden City, Discovery used what is now the Imperial Palace Museum to illustrate the architectural treasure, displaying it in historical perspective. Richard Harvey’s rich score underpins the narration by Rod Steiger. The orchestration includes parts for Chinese string, woodwind and percussion instruments together with a standard orchestra and voices.

I recently gave an enthusiastic welcome to Richard Harvey's Plague and the Moonflower (Altus ALU0001) and this is another Altus recording issued by Nimbus. Without the film to support it, the music has to be judged purely on its own merits. The score consists of 17 short pieces but these are not mere snippets. The music flows from track to track. There are no bleeding chunks and what we have is a satisfying whole. The complete track-listing is set out below. The titles are meaningless unless you have seen the film. You may as well just put the CD on and wallow in the sounds for a rather pleasurable 60 minutes. That’s the way I approached it.

From the outset in Sons of Heaven we are straightaway thrust into the sound-world of Chinese TV and film music with textures dominated by Chinese instruments supporting a romantic string melody. This leads into Dynasty with another romantic string theme and attractive Chinese flute solo. Tinkling percussion and pounding drums add to the Chinese atmosphere. At this point I’m asking myself “who would buy this CD?” and I immediately thought of those who enjoy highly lush cinematic music such as Shore’s Lord of the Rings soundtracks and panpipe records. Like Shore’s music, Harvey gives us regular moments of drama and tension and also some epic passages with soaring horns and brass fanfares. In 1582 and then Eclipse we are transported to medieval times, more European than Chinese and the choral writing demonstrates the composer’s undoubted gift for writing catchy melodies. After the first five tracks it’s pretty obvious what we have on our hands here. This is straightforward tonal music, easy on the ear but certainly highly enchanting and full of mysticism and atmosphere. The Last Emperor and Forbidden City bring the music to a touching conclusion with gentle oriental sonorities, engrossing solo strings and a hypnotic flute. I enjoyed the whole thing immensely. Those who have heard Plague and the Moonflower are on safe ground here and to them I can give this latest offering a positive endorsement. Buy this and you won’t be disappointed.

The playing sounds impeccable and the recording is a forward multi-channel studio affair with tremendous impact, detail and a thrilling deep bass. There’s nothing natural about the recording but it has a real kick to it despite one or two over-modulated passages where the brass instruments in particular are close to being edgy and uncomfortable. This isn’t a typical classical orchestral sound. It’s cinematic, upfront, engulfing and best played at a high volume. Lovers of film music should give this a try.

John Whitmore

Track-listing
1 Sons of Heaven 4:16
2 Dynasty 4:52
3 Omens 1:48
4 1582 3:16
5 Eclipse 3:56
6 The Dragon Throne 3:13
7 Memorials 2:53
8 Concubines 6:41
9 The Eunuch's Story 1:53
10 Myriad Treasures 1:07
11 The Death of Kangxi 4:31
12 The Sun at Noon 4:11
13 Parting at Yang Guan 3:24
14 The Unwelcome Tribute 3:34
15 The Dragon Wall 3:04
16 The Last Emperor 5:00
17 The Forbidden City 2:39

 

 



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