April 2003 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Nicholas Nickleby  
Music Composed by Rachel Portman
  Contract Chamber Orchestra with Nick Bucknall (clarinet); Andy Fitton (flute); and Skailer Kanger (harp)
  Available on: Varèse Sarabande VSD-6435
Running Time: 40:04
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nicholas nickleby

Rachel Portman once again offers a plaintive, melancholic, folksy score (more English, less Celtic than for say The Cider House Rules) for another period drama. I have no doubt that it serves the Dickensian screenplay well but as a listening experience it tends towards the tedious before this album’s forty minutes elapses. The Main Titles has more optimistic material in faster tempi, exuberant and perky folk dance music (developed in ‘The Forest’ and reprised in the End Titles) before poignancy and slow tempi predominate. In this introductory cue Portman uses, to nice bucolic effect, solos from flute, clarinet, harp and fiddle with rhythms first scampering, then skipping before the slower moving, morose figures overtake as shadows gather. Lower strings and woodwind combine to imply bleak landscapes and prospects on the ‘Journey to Dotheboys’ and then suggest a grave, pompous ‘Dear Mr Knuckleboy’, while their groanings and gruntings and dashes of upper woodwind colour and stern violin bowings add a colourful sketch for ‘Fanny Music’. The cool delicate harp and flute meditations of ‘Smike by the Stove’ and ‘You are my home’ are quite delightful interludes. As for the villainy, sinister bass swirlings and grotesque double bass limping figures below abrasive upper string chords contribute a sinister atmosphere for the consecutive cues, ‘More jobs for Smike’ and ‘Squeers captures Smike’. Other cues follow a similar pattern.

Another pleasant and atmospheric, but thin Portman score. Nothing really touches the heart or spirit.

Ian Lace

*** 3

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