Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


Debbie WISEMAN Every Note Paints A Picture The Locrian Ensemble GRAMOPHONE PUBLICATIONS LTD GCD1298B [60:04]
Only available on purchase of the December 1998 Gramophone £3.95. Gramophone Publications, 135 Greenford Road, Sudbury Hill, Harrow, HA1 3YD. Tel +44 (0)181 422 4562 Fax +44 (0)181 869 8400 e-mail:



Paul Tonks

September 19th of this year was a rather special date in the calendar of UK film music enthusiasts. At the Purcell Room of The Royal Festival Hall, Debbie Wiseman conducted an evening of her music for film and television which demonstrated her skills as a composer on so many levels. Most appreciable was the fact that each piece had been re-orchestrated for the 16 piece Ensemble, many of whom had played on the original recordings. It is quite rare for a film music concert to be recorded, and so the efforts of Tony Faulkner and the Gramophone team (particularly Mark Walker) are to be applauded.

The resulting disc is a limited edition presented with the December issue of Gramophone magazine, which also features an in-depth interview with the composer as well as an extended focus on film music. Since the disc is doubled with a separate disc of classical tracks the all round package is a very respectable collectible.

Just to be different, this review will comment on the cues in reverse order. So first but last comes "Ballet Lemur"; an exclusive presentation of a theme from the BBC’s Born To Be Wild: Operation Lemur which aired earlier in the year. This was a personal project for actor / comedian John Cleese who has a particular fondness for the Lemur. He makes a highly comical trek to seek out some of the animals introduced to the wild of Madagascar. In one memorable sequence, he explains nature’s shortcomings by demonstrating how the animals move. In the trees they have a remarkable accuracy for jumping and landing between trunks. Man’s encroachment into their habitat has cut great tracks through the forest, which means they often have to move at ground level. Here they have adopted an upright, sideways leaping gait. Following a group comes Cleese dressed as an English butler. The bizarre spectacle is accompanied by Debbie’s ballet; an accelerating piece which plays to both their grace and undeniable cuteness. It propels dizzyingly to a crescendo that comes to a dramatic halt. The point of the programme being the hope that the animals will not do the same.

A short change of pace came penultimately in "Wild West" from the score to Wilde. At the opening of the film, we see Oscar giving a lecture about the music of Beethoven to some American miners. The scene sets a comic tone as an introduction to the great man’s wit and eloquence, but is more comical for seeing his own amusement. When he announces that the composer is dead, one miner’s response is "who shot him ?" The dusty outback is conveyed as much by the solo violin strains within Debbie’s music as the sunset and scrub scenery. This stand-alone piece is appropriately light-hearted without being twee about our cousins across ‘the pond’.

The extended suite from Haunted was one of the evening’s brightest surprises, opening as it does with some quite unsettling effects from piano, solo violin, and a sustained suspenseful line from the remaining strings. It then leads in to a beautiful solo piano rendition of the film’s main theme. By the time the remaining instruments have followed a solo violin’s segue, the amassed emotion accumulated from the theme is as heartbreaking as music gets. If you are familiar with the film, the effect is yet more devastating. A sceptical supernatural investigator discovers a very personal truth which reverses all of his beliefs. The theme encapsulates the word ‘loss’ perfectly.

Should you find yourself in Tel Aviv for any reason, be sure to visit the Beth Hatefutsoth Museum. Their "Chronosphere" exhibit chronicles the history of the Jewish people, and features an extremely diverse score from Wiseman ("The Museum of the Diaspora"). The seven and a half minute extract here will have to suffice if you can't make it (!). An interesting observation occurred to this reviewer at the 1:10 mark, which is in a remarkable similarity to Jarre’s Lawrence of Arabia. Knowing of the Jews mammoth trek across the desert to reach the promised land, one wonders if this was a subtle musical reference ?

A few chapters in the life of poet T.S. Eliot are covered by the film Tom & Viv; specifically the years of emotional upheaval with his wife "Vivvie" (a remarkable Miranda Richardson). The composer’s score reflects the "moral insanity" she projects into the artist’s life. Its strong leaning toward strings likewise project a very soulful mood. It is arguable that actor Willem Dafoe cannot help but present a long face, but somehow the music manages to stretch it even further ! (Sony Classical’s release is all but impossible to find incidentally)

With The Dynasty: The Nehru-Ghandi Story, the aforementioned re-orchestration skills are most prominent. Original parts for tablas and Shenai are taken between the Ensemble, and yet still retain an appropriate ethnicity. India’s first Prime Minister is followed by the series, intertwining his life with key figures such as Mahatma Ghandi. A brief main title theme on solo trumpet opens the (all too brief) cue, and reprises for a final touch of nobility as well.

Making this disc particularly collectible, is almost 19 minutes of music from the as yet unreleased Tom’s Midnight Garden. This is an adaptation of Philippa Pearce’s children’s book about a very bored Tom Long entering and exploring a magical yet mysterious garden which appears whenever a grandfather clock strikes thirteen. This generous suite presents all the film’s thematic material, including orchestral versions of the song "After Always" (sung by Barbara Dickson, lyrics by Don Black). Near everything suggests a bouncing childlike wonder, but there are also some pleasingly ambiguous phrases which are at the stage when we are uncertain whether the events are for good or bad. Already awarded a catalogue number (MPRCD011), an album on the MCI label will coincide with film’s Easter 1999 release.

Lastly for this review, but opening the disc is Wilde. Released in the UK in October ‘97, it made it across the pond to the States for the Summer. Significant success and interest there led to Sonic Images repackaging a disc already made available on the British MCI label. Both are exquisite to look at, but feature the same track listing. I wanted to make this about face review to mention "Ballet Lemur" first, but mainly to wax lyrical about the phenomenal Wilde in summation.

Quite simply this is one of the most affecting film scores ever. A bold statement, but the music really does speak for itself. What is so wonderful is that after exposure to either of the full releases mentioned above, this Gramophone disc is so much more intimate for its pared down make up of instrumentation. The melancholy of Oscar’s "love that dare not speak its name" is communicated on a very immediate level. If any one score (thus far) blatantly exhibits Wiseman’s own poetical soul it is this.

A little inside trivia is imparted in telling you that the sequence of cues has been ‘fudged’ from the concert running order. A smoother play list has been created perhaps, but it is precisely the sort of collection for which the ‘Random’ button was invented. It matters not a bit. A slight shame is that financial concerns necessitated the exclusion of suites from The Good Guys and The Missing Postman - both British TV productions.

Paul Tonks


Return to Review Index
or Main Film Page