March 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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EDITOR’s CHOICE New Score

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James HORNER
Iris  
  Music from the motion picture conducted by the composer with Joshua Bell (vioilin)
  SONY SK 89806   [49:56]

Iris

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.

Enchanting

Ian Lace

****(*)

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

*****

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