The good news is that Horner is back on form with this lovely
idyllic, elegiac score, subtle and understated for the tragic story of novelist
Iris Murdoch who died of
Alzheimerís disease. The score is predominantly string-based
with discrete use of woodwinds, harp and horns. According to the booklet there
is some element of synth but its use is hardly noticeable at all. Together with
Joshua Bellís nicely judged and beautifully phrased violin solos, Hornerís music
is exquisitely sympathetic, never mawkish. His score is often reminiscent of
the pastoral works of English composers, particularly Vaughan Williams; indeed
the last track with the description Ė ĎEnd Credits Ė A Lark in the Clear Airí
substantiates this influence, although in fact this is the title of the traditional
song that rides over the end titles. Hornerís pastoral and waterlike evocations
and his Irishness are pleasingly subtle. The album has eight tracks divided
and named as Parts 1 to 8 with a brief text description appended to each. Most
of them contrast gentle wistful pastoral material with music of a darker tinge,
music of pathos, of Irisís plight but it also intimates defiance, strength and
determination. Rarely does the music rise to any dramatic level there is no
real anguish no hysteria, it is all so beautifully understated.
Gary Dalkin adds:-
Not so very long ago James Horner scored a romantic period
drama starring Kate Winslet and sold 26 million soundtrack albums as a result.
That his New-Age/cod-Celtic score was entirely out of keeping with a story set
on an English ship in 1912 seems only to have added to its public appeal. The
fact that the music was attractive and extremely emotionally effective seems
to have been all that mattered. Now Horner has scored an English romantic period
drama (well, half of it is set in the 1950's) starring Kate Winslet and delivered
the sort of lyrical writing based within the English 20th Century
classical tradition he should have provided for Titanic. Other than a
disconcerting smattering of electronics in Part 3 which seems deliberately to
reference his Titanic score, this is an orchestral work orientated to
strings, woodwind and piano, and clearly influenced by the pastoral-folk inspired
music of such English masters as Vaughan Willams, William Alwyn and Gerald Finzi.
The music is also a showcase for the fine young classical
violinist Joshua Bell, and as an album provides a much more coherent and enjoyable
listening experience than the Oscar-winning The Red Violin. There isn't
though the same opportunity for virtuoso pyrotechnics that score offered, the
mood here being one of romantic lyricism shading into introspective darkness.
Bell's job this time is to deliver sensitive characterisation and beauty of
tone, and this he does in abundance.
As so often with Horner the music has been arranged into long
tracks, possibly re-recorded for the album, but whatever the case nothing here
outstays its welcome in the way of the derivative
Enemy At The Gates
or the highly repetitive
The Perfect Storm.
This is the work of Horner at his romantic best, and as an album proves his
most appealing since Legends of the Fall.
It's not all lyrical loveliness. As the disc progresses there
is a real sense of foreboding darkness, with Part 6 taking the listener through
a dark night of the soul and music of resigned yet scalding intensity. The epic
(10 minute) Part 7 fully expresses the inevitable tragedy of the story, Bell's
violin finding moments of quiet solace which makes one long to hear him in Vaughan
Williams' The Lark Ascending. The heart-rending tranquillity of the End
Credits set the traditional A Lark in the Clear Air, sung by Kate Winslet
with an affectingly winsome voice, to Horner's valedictory closing statement
of the main theme. A work which may win Horner admirers among those who prefer
George Fenton's Shadowlands (another true life story of a famous British
writer, again ending in tragedy) to the composer's often bombastic approach
to film scoring. It does suffer the same conceptual flaw as Shadowlands
in that there is not one moment of unalloyed joy which might make the pain worth
enduring. Nevertheless, as an album it is beautiful and faultless and by far
the finest new film score release of the month.
Gary S Dalkin