October 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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RECOMMENDED October 2002

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George FENTON
The Blue Planet  
  The BBC Concert Orchestra The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford Conducted by the composer. Orchestrations by Geoffrey Alexander. Electronic score performed by the composer and David Lawson
  BBC WMSF 6043-2   [55.14]

Blue Planet

Here are 55 minutes culled from George Fenton's six-hour score for the eight-part, five- years-in-the-making, BBC natural history epic. Rather than simply fill the disc to bursting, Fenton has chosen the tracks to make an enjoyable album which represents all the different facets of the score, but which will give pleasure to anyone regardless of whether they have seen the series. This has proved a sensible path to take, as the disc makes for a simply glorious listening experience.

Given the scale of the series it was decided to score it like a feature film, rather than a television documentary. Hence Fenton, who had previously scored previous BBC natural history series The Trials of Life and Life in the Freezer, was given the budget for full orchestra and choir, as well as some electronics.

The disc opens with the anthemic title theme, which with wordless choir, soaring over a surging orchestra, sets the oceanic scene with tremendous aplomb. "Sardine Run" is just the first of several exhilarating set-pieces in the grand traditions of English film music and English sea music. Forget the off-putting title; this is simply a pulsating, sun-glittering delight which could as easily grace the biggest of Hollywood productions, and with its engagingly idiosyncratic scoring is far superior to the majority of routine music currently found emanating from LA.

Fenton's "Spinning Dolphins" have clearly taken a holiday in the Andes, and the result is a joyfully melodic folk dance. Slow-building majesty best describes "Blue Whale", music which combined with the television images really did inspire awe, and on disc is a magnificent orchestral showcase.

With "Jelly Fish" and "Surfing Snails" the album changes direction, offering two electronic cues performed by Fenton and David Lawson, both pieces being infused with a gentle descriptive wit. The former sounds like serene cocktail lounge music, the latter a rather funky '70's cop movie theme pastiche. Fun as these are it is a pleasure to return to the orchestral score for a dramatic yet lyrical portrait of "Emperors". So it goes, from lugubrious turtles to the haunting alien world of "The Deep Oceans" to almost imperial menace of the "Elephant Seal March". "Coral Wonder" has string writing evocative of Herrmann's Vertigo, while the final epic portrayal of "Killer Whales" moves from gentle grace to cascading torrents of orchestral power.

If you were not already convinced, with The Blue Planet following the brilliant Anna and the King (1999) it is clear George Fenton is one of our premiere composers, who when given the opportunity can work successfully on the grandest of scales. This music is constantly inventive, wonderfully orchestrated and filled with melody. The performances and recording are first-rate. If there were any justice and indeed, if there were sufficient films worthy of quality scores still being made, Fenton would be - alongside Adrian Johnston, Christopher Gordon, Charlie Mole, Edward Shearmur, Mark Thomas and Debbie Wiseman - one of the biggest names in Hollywood.

Gary S. Dalkin

****(*)

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