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Music by Debbie WISEMAN for - Stories of Oscar Wilde: The Selfish Giant and The Nightingale and the Rose: Film Music CD Reviews- January 2001

January 2001 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Music by Debbie WISEMAN for:
Stories of Oscar Wilde: The Selfish Giant and The Nightingale and the Rose  
Narrated by Vanessa Redgrave and Stephen Fry
  With the Academy of St Martin in the Fields conducted by Sir Neville Marriner
  TELDEC 8573-81506-2   [62:37]

This must count as one of the more unusual film spin-off projects of recent years. In 1997 Stephen Fry starred as Oscar Wilde in the film Wilde. Vanessa Redgrave played the writer's mother, Speranza, and the excellent score was written by Debbie Wiseman. Clearly the project was inspirational, for now the three are reunited on this album which sets two of Wilde's classic fairy tales, The Nightingale and the Rose and The Selfish Giant, to new music by Wiseman. Fry narrates the former, Redgrave, the latter. And for those who want to listen to the music without someone talking over it, between the two fairy tales are two orchestral pieces, My Own Garden and One Last Song. These lovely pieces flow seamlessly together, condensing the main themes from both the main works in 16 gorgeous minutes of melody.

The clear antecedent for all such works is of course Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. Miklós Rózsa's The Jungle Book perhaps coming second. For The Nightingale and the Rose Wiseman evokes the sad beauty of the tale rather than directly imitates the various characters, the nightingale necessarily being the exception, to which she gives voice in some gorgeous flute melodies. Her writing is still akin to film music, in that the music must be subservient to the voice. She nevertheless crafts beguiling themes, sometimes on her own instrument, the piano, which support the emotion of the tale and easily lodge themselves in the memory even after a first listen.

Apart from being a superb comic and serious actor, and an accomplished novelist, Fry has recently provided fine audiobook readings of the Harry Potter novels. Here he has rather less text to deliver, doing so admirably and realising the pathos of the story for both children and adults. The latter will recognise the irony of the tale; the contrast between the sacrificial innocence of the nightingale and the fickle cruelty of the nominal human heroine.

The Selfish Giant is a complimentary fable, contrasting the freedom of natural creation with a giant's desire to control all he surveys, and how the innocence of a child thaws the giant's heart. The ending is happy, and while both fairy tales can be taken as allegories for Christ's suffering and redemptive work, this second tale is more explicit. Appropriately Wiseman's scoring is iridescent, joyful and haunting, and she captures the tread of the giant and the changing seasons in her orchestrations. Vanessa Redgrave narrates with charming fluidity, concluding a disc which should all who hear it.

The orchestral recording is very fine, and Sir Neville Mariner places the whole firmly within the English pastoral tradition. If the violin writing deliberately harks to the 1890's, Elgar's first fruits and the time of Wilde's greatest triumphs (the fairy tales were first published in 1888), the remainder is pure 20th century Wiseman. If there is a problem at all, and it is a minor one, it is that Fry and Redgrave were clearly recorded in a different acoustic to the orchestra. There is occasional reverberation on the voices, whether natural or digital, which does detract a little from the sheer beauty of the conception. In all other respects this is immaculately done, and would make a fine Christmas or birthday present for any child able to concentrate on 20 minutes of story at a time - in other words any child capable of sitting though a standard television cartoon. Adults will love it too, whether previously admirers of Debbie Wiseman's film music or not.

The booklet contains children's book style illustrations by Dirk Uhlenbrock and extracts, rather than the complete texts, from the fairy tales.

Gary S. Dalkin


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