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December 2005 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Kingdom of Heaven  
Music composed by Harry Gregson-Williams
The London Sessions Orchestra, The Bach Choir
With Vocalist Lisbeth Scott; Catherine Bott and Nicole Tibbles (sopranos) and Iestyn Davies (counter Tenor)
Choir of the Kings Consort conducted by Robert King; Fretwork (consort of Viols)
  Available on Sony (SK 94410)
Running Time: 62:12
Amazon UK   Amazon US

Harry Gregson-Williams has crafted a deeply-felt score for Kingdom of Heaven. It is scored for a large orchestra and chorus. There is to my mind an ambiguity in that the soundtrack CD booklet does not distinguish between what is Gregson Smith’s music and what is medieval source music (choirs intoning material frequently suggestive of plainchant and early church music modes) And the too-swiftly moving and incredibly small print of the film’s closing credits do not clarify matters either.  Much of the music appears to be source music overlay on Gregson-Williams material.

But it should be said that this is one of those rare ‘soundtrack’ albums that actually sounds better away from the film.

Gregson-Williams’s large orchestra is supplemented by a wide array of ethnic instrumentation. The composer uses very colourful harmonies and orchestrations, the score’s conception very much in keeping with the spirit of the screenplay’s location and period. Overall an atmosphere of piety and compassion vies with the thunder of combat and the clash of cultures and religions.

The opening track, ‘Burning the Past’ opens with a medieval sound tapestry; period  instruments intoning a hymn over a droning ground bass before the entry of a plainchant choir. ‘Crusaders’ hymnal is in a faster tempo, instruments, including rolling drums, and voices more joyous and celebratory. ‘Swordsplay’ continues the mood, until voices varying the tempi and the music with harps and harp-like ethnic instruments becoming iridescent before more shadowy strings hint at steel on steel.

‘A New World’ is another wonderfully harmonised and orchestrated track. Particularly impressive is the string writing, high violins poised above and across the sound stage like passing and coalescing clouds. Consistently impressive is Gregson-Williams’s writing for strings, woodwinds and harps as well as his choral writing (eg. the lovely multi-part a cappela writing of ‘Path to Heaven’ and ‘Coronation’ has touching piety as well as majesty). One of the loveliest tracks is ‘Sibylla’ that might have been a troubadour’s song or a madrigal; it glitters over a quiet choral line. ‘Ibelin’ (reprised with voice as the final track) has rather familiar ethnic patterns but it is impressively and imaginatively orchestrated. ‘An understanding’ has mildly erotic and swaying Arabic dance rhythms.  ‘Better Man’ mixes some of the most beautiful Christian choral material with music of extreme ethnic frenzy and a wailing soprano solo.  Inevitably, a proportion of the music has a sameness contrasting Muslim and Christian modes and including harsh combat material with thundering bass drums (‘The Battle of Kerek is a very exciting crescendo for full choral and orchestral forces) but that is not to say that the ear is ever wearied by Gregson-Williams fecund imagination.

Altogether, one of the most beautiful and exciting scores that have come this reviewer’s way this year.

Ian Lace


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