The adulation directed towards this score last year really was entirely deserved.
Despite a reasonable grounding in the film world this was effectively the
(then) 30 year old's first major release. His age and the maturity of the
score are an impressive sum to equate.
Henry James' tale of deception set in the early part of this century was
always going to require understated treatment. With the opening
"Underground", that subtlety is set. A harp plays alongside some very
yearning strings; a main theme of extreme tenderness. A livelier tone picks
up for the remainder of this small suite, then with a minor sense or urgency
a couple of cymbal rolls restore the calm.
A secondary motif is introduced at the beginning of "Rendezvous",
and the wind instrument we are apparently treated to is an Egyptian Flute
according to the booklet. Also credited, and appearing in various guises
with the theme throughout are a lute, bazouki, and acoustic bass. Hardly
atypical period instrumentation, this exotic ambience really lends itself
to the portions of the film set in Venice. The Romantic style of the music
remains, and has been compared to the likes of Vaughan Williams, Frederick
Delius, Frank Bridge, and Gerald Finzi. The London Metropolitan Orchestra
were ideally suited.
There are many instances of sustained notes from small ensembles, giving
an effective sense of free floating - a travelling sensation in accordance
with the character's movements and/or travails of allegiance
("Venice"). Knowing Shearmur to be the 'protégé' of
Michael Kamen it has been a pleasure to note none of the tutor's own style
within his scores. On studying this particular album, these prolonged moments
are truly about the only vague stylistic comparison to be made. Kamen's title
theme to The Dead Zone is an ideal example.
With "Carnival Masque" the unexpected instrumentation is brought to
the fore for a snake charming surprise. The cue is really in two halves,
with the belly dance followed by an ethnic rhythm bridging a segue into a
reprise of one of the main themes. Some tambourine rolls round out the
delightfully intimate cue. The following "Tryst" performs the same
trick by starting with the former's style taken at an upbeat lick; an Egyptian
dance working to an accelerating beat. Then it too returns to the orchestral
romance of swirling string movements.
Making a rare change for a soundtrack release is the fact that there isn't
a single cue of less than 4 minutes length. The effect is of individual movements
to a concert work. Shearmur performed a suite of the score at this year's
Flanders Film Festival, where his extremely intimate conducting style elicited
a beautiful performance from the Belgian National Orchestra and a sincere
ovation from the audience.
The film studio took a chance on the young composer's music for this film
- so should you.