James Newton Howard’s rich, uplifting music for director Michael Hoffman’s The Emperor’s Club is an extremely satisfying listening experience. A score crafted with a great passion for its subject matter, it juxtaposes the contagious lilting of pure Irish folk origins with neo-classicist sentiment.
As is customary, the album opens with the film’s spirited "Main Title", which perfectly encapsulates life in the world of a Washington D.C boarding school during the 1970’s. Pride and virtue are lauded from its parapets by guitar and dulcimer as solo fiddle brings the listener firmly back to earth. The second track, 'Teaching Montage', continues the emotional ride, replete with wind quartet flourishes and percussive rambling, before 'Hundert Remembers' introduces lyrical French horn and evocative classical guitar solos supported by meandering harp arpeggios. The 'Quiz Montage' sequence re-affirms established motifs, with prominent woodwind and scordatura solo fiddle, as 'The Big Test' looms, an introspective piece with minimalist tendencies. 'Hundert Quits' features a delicate solo piano solo, whilst '25 Years Later' and the sustained musings of 'Elizabeth' ever-so mournfully recall Hundert’s distant past. The delightful pondering continues with subtle motivic development throughout the remaining five tracks as ascendant, triumphal resolution accompanies 'Young Martin Blythe'.
The Hollywood Studio Symphony deliver a heart-felt, tight performance helped by the nuances that Shawn Murphy’s recording draws from the Sony Scoring Stage. The Emperor’s Club is a wonderful addition to James Newton Howard’s prolific output, indicative of both his talent and his proclivity for attention to detail.