Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


David HIRSCHFELDER Elizabeth OST LONDON 460 796-2  


Crotchet (UK)

The film is a visual tapestry of colour-filtered photography and shadow, high-angled camerawork, suitable period embellishments to modern architecture, and lavish costume. It's quite an assault on the senses, and opening on the burning of some Protestant heretics it demands your attention immediately. Propelling the momentum of the shock start is the music of Australian composer David Hirschfelder. Here is a charging fusion of choral highs and percussive lows. Horns blare over the top of cyclic string motifs, and the breathless pace comes to a sudden halt. Through the course of the film it is used a handful of times and takes on the role of dramatic entrance accompaniment. Horse riders cresting a hilltop bearing news of great import. It features twice in the album's 'Overture', and with increasingly appealing arrangements as the score progresses.

About halfway through the picture there is a comedic musical moment. The French court's would-be suitor arrives with a jolly flute and tambourine preceding him. The musicians are drowned out by a regal fanfare from the Queen's entourage. The one tradition is pooled with, yet separated by the other. This stands as a perfect analogy of Hirschfelder's score, which blends classical with period with modern. To look at each of these in turn, requires some thought into the successful integration of source music; classical or otherwise.

There are 4 source cues in all. Tielman Susato's 'Rondes I and VII' from 'Dansereye' are direct re-uses from an existing recording. Essentially they are court room jigs. With William Byrd's 'Domine Secundum Actum Meum' the bittersweet boy soprano and tenor lines contrast with (yet complement) a violent event in history from which the cue takes its name - 'Night of the Long Knives'. Interestingly this was a creative choice of the director, but one which the composer fully supported.

It is with the film's finale that the question of appropriate use comes in. As Elizabeth makes her peace with both her enemies and herself, Elgar's 'Nimrod' from 'Enigma Variations' segues into Mozart's 'Requiem'. Both pieces have been re-arranged by Hirschfelder and are a technical marvel, as well as an aural treat. The use of Kim Wheeler's soprano voice over 'Nimrod' is frankly inspired. This is a continued proof of his abilities as an arranger, following the success of his work with Rachmaninov for 'Shine'.

The fact that a piece is chosen for film or television is an acknowledgement that it has a public recognition. As a viewer this will therefore make an associative connection that is arguably too much of a distraction from the film's events. Considering the events in question are the emotional denouement to such an important chronicle of a life, their combined distraction is potentially disastrous. What must be stressed here however is that the composer openly admits (*see below) they came about through the lack of time. Some experimentation led to the director settling quite happily on them knowing Hirschfelder would embellish them uniquely.

If you can ignore the grossly disparate historical realities (music from the turn of this century followed by a piece from the 18th to conclude a film set in the 16th), then you will deem the picture a complete success. As far as this review is concerned however, the disc's stand-alone representation of the music is superb. The only minor niggle of the packaging being that the CD's back cover manages to neglect to credit anything other than 'Original Music'...

The period touches are nowhere more prominent than in the courtroom's confines. Like the 'Rondes' pieces, 'Coronation Banquet' is a succession of woven together dances and general entertainment pieces. At the request of "play a Volta" from the Queen, 2 very fine toe-tapping segments are strummed up by an assortment of pipes and shakers.

It is with the main body of the score that the composer's own voice becomes apparent. 'Shine' never really offered much opportunity for anything but "The Rach" to impress, and the more recent 'Sliding Doors' was a romantic comedy largely swamped in pop song. So this really is a major work for Hirschfelder, and if the 'Overture's charge is representative of the fullest most determined swipes of the conductor's baton, it is with the 'Love Theme' that a most intimate nature is acknowledged. A very delicate harp is bridged by sustained high strings before evolving into a flute line of remarkable sensitivity. It is a recognisably modern style of film scoring, but made appropriate by the modernistic portrayal of the Queen's love affair with Lord Robert.

There are other 90's flourishes with synthesised rumblings and sharp crashes. These underscore the brooding tone of the film, and are nicely incorporated into 'Conspiracy' for example. As a benchmark for the album's sound quality, they indicate an overall high standard. In all, this is a quite surprising cohesive whole given the range of styles. Most certainly it justifies to other parts of the globe just what Australia has been shouting about for so many years.


Paul Tonks

* Read this reviewer's conversation with the composer.

and Rob Barnett adds:-

Hirschfelder’s last major success was for the film Shine which from the musical point of view centred on Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3. In this film the music has more of a chance to assert the foreground. The tracks mix twentieth century romanticism with dance and liturgical music of the first and glorious Elizabethan era.

Elizabeth stars the feline, Cate Blanchett in the title role with many celebrated 'names': Richard Attenborough, Christopher Eccleston, Kathy Burke, Eric Cantona, Joseph Fiennes and John Gielgud.

I have now heard this disc four times and the review I am writing now is very different to the review I was poised to write after hearing it first. The first hearing caused me irritation with what appeared to be yet another bit of fakery. I was all ready to deride it for not being the score to Derek Jarman’s Prospero’s Books. Repeat hearings have revealed subtleties and depths.

I am not going to go in for a track by track appraisal. The disc has been thoroughly and perceptively reviewed by Paul Tonks. The fusion achieved between the disparate elements is not always apparent and in some tracks no fusion is attempted at all: the style stands unalloyed. Unlike Paul I found little to enjoy in the marriage of voice and orchestra over Elgar’s Enigma. This however is not the first time it has been done. Elgar himself did something similar, I thought, in his choral piece The Music Makers.

Overwhelmingly the tracks inhabit the John Barry land of the psychological vista - comfort and threat, beauty and horror. Time and again the music invoked visions of the human physiognomy laid open and veins and arteries, organs and musculature exhibited to view - a mixture of wonder and repugnance. The second track has luxuriant strings escaped from some wondrous performance of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro underpinned by darker surges and currents by drums and deep brass. The love theme (a good one - on track 7) is powerful, littered with references to sorrow. This perhaps picks up the fact that Elizabeth feels the responsibility of the Crown and cannot surrender herself to passion. There is a Shostakovichian scorching severity about track 11 (Conspiracy) which resurfaces, chugging and urgent, in track 13: One Mistress, no Master.

Track 6 is an example of a fusion track. Stomping Court dance music alive with the sound of pipes and drums dims the lights in one room and turns them up in another rife with Warlock and Sibelius. Vaughan Williams is another voice I heard in many of the tracks.

This is a worthy and rewarding album which deserves to be listened to several times before you allow impressions to take root. I shall be listening out for more by Hirschfelder but I do hope he will give more prominence to his original music rather than fusion and arrangement work around existing music. The insert has lots of pretty pictures but tells you pretty well nothing about the music or the composer.


Rob Barnett


Paul Tonks

Rob Barnett

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