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Zbigniew PREISNER - The Last September: 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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The Last September  
  conducted by Robert Ziegler
  Silva Screen SILKD 6027   [34:47]

The Last September is adapted from the novel by Elizabeth Bowen, setting a coming of age drama against the end of British rule in Ireland. The cast - Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Jane Birkin, Keeley Hawes - oozes class, and there are many names from the quality end of British cinema behind the camera, while into this quintessentially Anglo-Irish production steps Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner, providing just as appropriate a score as he did for The Secret Garden and FairyTale: A True Story.

The Last September is not as much a departure for Preisner as the simultaneously released entry in Silva Screen's Preisner Edition as Aberdeen, finding him blending his very familiar otherworldly minimalism with a certain Englishness of character to captivating effect. This score is entirely acoustic, utilising a variety of soloists against a small string orchestra. The guitarist, John Parricelli, is the same here as on Aberdeen, but one surprise is to find that Preisner's regular pianist, Leszek Mozdzer (see my review of Preisner's 10 Easy Pieces for Piano ) has been replaced by Simon Chamberlain; who to his credit, ably captures the familiar ghostly/romantic sound of the composer.

Cues vary between Preisner's familiar understated atmospheric writing and evocations of classically English 20th century pastoral film scoring; one example being the rippling piano against strings of 'The Tennis Party' leading into the spectral, dislocated sound-world of 'The Telescope'. Beyond this, lending a particular character is the solo writing for glass harmonica, played with considerable skill by Alasdair Malloy. It is remarkable the sheer range of tones, from voices akin to a pan-pipe, to the simply indescribable, which this musician is able to elicit; the use of harmonics in, for example, the opening of 'The Ambushed Soldier', working to very telling effect.

Many of the tracks are short, 7 of the 12 coming in at under 2 minutes. There is however an extended opening suite, an overture by another name which will surely reappear on many a Silva Screen compilation album. There are two different end titles, though we are not told which one is used in the released film. Both are attractive, the second version having the more satisfactory resolution, the two being quite different pieces, the former focused on the piano, the latter on a duet for trumpet and piano, dissolving into the most delicate of chimes. The effect is one of chilling finality.

The Last September a gorgeously recorded disc, with some details of the production such as the alternating of individual slow harp notes from left to right effectively establishing the sense of a pristine musical world more perfect than everyday reality, a musical refinement elevated in the same way Preisner's score for La Double Vie de Véronique. I would recommend both this an Preisner's Aberdeen highly. If you like the composer suggesting one over the other is nearly impossible, though personally I slightly prefer Aberdeen. Perhaps the solution is to put both of these and Deckalog, the other new entry in Silva Screen's Preisner Edition, on your record token list.

Gary S. Dalkin


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