I am a big admirer of Craig Armstrong as a film composer. He has produced some very stylish, at times progressive music over the last few years, but most important of all his work has been consistently melodic. And for me it is this aspect of film music that I find most appealing. For example, his driving, grandiose orchestral score (with techno embellishments) for Plunkett & Macleane was a sheer delight with a variety of striking themes, and his contribution to the magnificent Moulin Rouge was greeted by numerous well deserved awards and kudos. More recently I was very impressed by his heart-on-your-sleeve music for Love Actually which featured several really outstanding motifs that, as long as you were willing to give yourself over to the melodramatics, elevated the romance to a level of high emotional drama.
Here however, Armstrong's compositions are stripped down to their most basic level, performed solo on piano and it has to be said that too many pieces outside of those taken from his film work lack real melodic attraction, something which creates a surprising sense of emotional detachment. However, pieces such as 'Leaving Paris', 'Laura's Theme' and 'Glasgow Love Theme' are full of emotive, poignant beauty, and the fact that they are all taken from the various movies already mentioned above must signify something. I should quickly add though that I am not suggesting that everything else here not derived from a movie score is without quality, but for me there is little doubt that the best of his work is film related.
This kind of work, presenting music stripped down to its most simple form can be problematic in that there is a danger of a sameness creeping in. Certainly a criticism could be levelled at the nineteen tracks on offer here. Inevitably the melodic structure comes under particularly close scrutiny, but as Armstrong's great gift is for melody he generally succeeds where others might easily falter. Even so, there are inherent limitations in this approach and would-be listeners should approach with the foreknowledge that a love of the piano is a prerequisite and that at times the work is rather low-key and ambient. If this does not deter you then there is much to enjoy here, although I have to confess that I personally prefer the composer in possession of a full instrumental palette. What is certain is that I look forward to Craig Armstrong's next film score as he is unquestionably a talent to be nurtured and encouraged.
Gary Dalkin adds:-
A pleasant, relaxing, sometimes near ambient disc which should appeal to followers of film composer Ludovico Einaudi's solo piano music.