April 2004 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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Seven: A Suite for Orchestra  
Music composed by Tony Banks
  Mike Dixon conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra
  Available on Naxos 8.557466
Running time: 57.39
Crotchet   Amazon UK   Amazon US

See also a recent interview with the composer.


First, this album is not a film score and is in no way connected with the film Se7en (1995), which was scored by Howard Shore. Second, it's not really a suite certainly not the in the classical sense but should be more accurately described as a sequence of seven orchestral pieces in similar style but not directly related to one another. Indeed, while five were written for this release, two others are reworkings of older pieces. One, 'Neap Tide', originally was recorded for Tony Banks' album Strictly Inc., while, according to the composer, "The Gateway was in fact written some twenty years ago as a possible idea for a film theme that was never used."

Tony Banks, for those who don't know, is a founder member of the one time progressive rock band Genesis, and one of only two (the other being bassist Mike Rutherford) to stay with the group through-out its so far 36 year history. The band's keyboard player, Banks helped give Genesis a distinctively complex musical personality, his classically influenced melodies and elegant piano parts lifting the group far above the rock mainstream to become one of the very few rock bands to leave any sort of worthwhile musical legacy. Banks has also turned his attentions to film scoring, providing music for The Shout (1978), The Wicked Lady (1983), Lorca and the Outlaws (1985) and Quicksilver (1986). The second of these received a soundtrack album release, while music from the last two was compiled on the anthology 'Soundtracks' (1986). Clearly these four don't amount to a successful career as a film composer, but based on the evidence of 'Seven', if Banks wants to have a fresh attempt at the silver screen he now has a strong orchestral calling card to offer.

In his booklet notes Banks says he has had the idea of writing for orchestra since scoring The Wicked Lady. He disarmingly explains that he knew he would need an orchestrator and employed Simon Hale to "make the music intelligible to orchestral players." He goes on to say that he was surprised by the way an orchestra works that in the time a rock band would take a set its instruments up the London Philharmonic expected to have finished recording 20 minutes of music. The result initially was four pieces recorded, but due to Banks inexperience none satisfactorily so they went back and did it again. How many musicians would admit to that? The finished album sounds superb and has fine performances from one of the country's top orchestras.

As to the music; doubtless the serious classical establishment will sneer at an amateur having the audacity to dabble in their territory, and will likely throw about accusations of pseudo film music. Well given the right film, any of the pieces here would better grace the silver screen than much of the work currently accompanying major releases. But more than that, each makes for very enjoyable listening right where they were intended; on CD. If Banks has an orchestral style of his own and a strong musical voice is clearly present it might be described as Vaughan Williams meets John Williams (with perhaps a little Gerald Finzi and William Alwyn).

There is a sense of the 20th century English classical pastoral landscape about much of the writing; just consider the string writing of 'Black Down' (the most Finzi-like work on the album), while the one piece originally written as a potential film theme has suggestions of John Williams' Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET being uplifting yet filled with a yearning quality which might translate into a blockbuster finale without a dry eye in the house. Given this piece, 'The Gateway', was conceived 20 years ago, it is perhaps not too much to assume the producers of whatever film it was originally intended for requested something along the lines of Williams music for Spielberg's two SF blockbusters.

Those who like the composers referenced in this review will find much to enjoy on this disc. Likewise those who appreciate the pastoral scores of Richard Rodney Bennett should be very happy with 'Seven'. At super-budget price there is little reason not to give it a try, and anyone who grew up with Genesis, or progressive rock in general, but now finds rock music too lacking in grace and elegance may well find this a welcome alternative. Highly melodic, exhilarating and moving, 'Seven' is the most convincing crossing of the rock/classical divide I have yet heard.

Gary Dalkin

***** 5

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