April 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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EDITOR'S CHOICE April 2006

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Enduring Love  
Music composed by Jeremy Sams
Conducted by Christopher Austin
Performed by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
  Available on Mellowdrama Records (MEL108)
Running Time: 40:45
Amazon UK   Amazon US

See also:

  • The Machinist
  • The Village
  • The Lark Ascending
  • Enduring Love is an adaptation of the novel by Ian McEwan. Daniel Craig plays a London university psychology lecturer and author who preaches orthodox social Darwinian behaviourism, and operates under the delusion his ideas are somehow shockingly original and important. Rhys Ifans (returning from director Roger Michell’s Notting Hill – along with another group of middle aged, middle class London friends and their dinner parties) is the seriously unbalanced homosexual who sees meaning in everything, if only as a means to hold his fragile psyche together. A fatal accident involving a hot air balloon brings the two men into contact in ways that drastically change both their lives. The result is a tense if shallow drama, bordering on psychological thriller, with elements of both Michell’s previous film, Changing Lanes, and the 80’s potboiler, Fatal Attraction.

    The film sets out to explore the nature of love from various angles, and the way in which it brings meaning into perhaps otherwise empty existences. Unfortunately, while elegantly crafted and opening with a remarkable set-piece involving the hot air balloon violently interrupting a perfect country idyll, the film lacks the substance to justify its ideas. What power Enduring Love has comes largely from the performances, the exceptional cinematography, and Jeremy Sams fine score.

    Though he won a BAFTA for Persuasion (1995), his first collaboration with Roger Michell, Jeremy Sams is not a name which will be familiar to many. This is because he has done comparatively little film work, concentrating his career in theatre, where he has been enormously successful, notably with his reworking of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang into a hit stage musical and with various scores for the RSC and National Theatre.

    His approach to Enduring Love falls firmly within the 20th century British classical tradition. Presumably referring to the tracks with which the film was ‘temped’ with, Sams writes in his booklet notes, “I won’t bother name-checking the composers whose influence is all over this score. Anyone with half an ear can hear what I have been listening to.”  So let’s say right away, Vaughan Williams, specifically The Lark Ascending, is the clear influence for the beautiful pastoral music that plays throughout the score and is inextricably linked with the balloon sequence at the start of the film. The darker, atonal writing for the more distressed parts of the score looks towards VW’s 8th and 9th symphonies. Let’s also say Benjamin Britten, especially the violin concerto, and the passacaglia from the opera Peter Grimes, and finally, William Alwyn’s lovely harp work Lyra Angelica, appears in barely disguised form.

    That the influences are showing does not prevent Enduring Love from being a compelling piece of work in its own right, moving from austere beauty – ‘Balloon Music’ – to riveting, intense high drama -  ‘Passacaglia 2 – Things Fall Apart’ – to the eloquent long unfolding musical landscape of the closing ‘Pastorale and Finale’. There is a cool detachment to parts of the writing; apparently Michell wanted music which was “non-committal as I could make it while still maintaining some sort of dramatic tension.” Sams further writes, “Eventually a white, creepy sort of music emerged which we generically described as ‘like silence, only slightly louder.’”

    This sound of silence is closer to that of the lambs than Simon and Garfunkel, tense string writing or sometimes simple reverberant piano lines – ‘A Conversation With Myself’ – and it contrasts most effectively with the beauty and emotionally wrought drama of the aforementioned set-pieces.

    One for those who love 20th century classical music and / or John Williams with his serious, ‘artistic’ hat on, this is an all-too-rare example of real film music. Uncompromising ‘serious’ film music which has only the film’s interests at heart with no appeal to contemporary fads or the dictates of the marketing department.

    Finally one must note the fine orchestrations and conducting by Christopher Austin and the eloquent performances by the RPO.

    Another superlative release from Mellowdrama Records.

    Gary Dalkin

    Rating: 5

    Michael McLennan adds:-

    Few aspects of this score go unnoticed in Gary’s review above, so I’m struggling to find something worth saying that will merit the high rating I too feel like giving it. Fortunately there’s no shortage of good things to say about Mellowdrama’s fourth release.

    Let’s start in an unlikely place – in the liner notes. Sams’ remarks are an insight into the compositional process for film, dialogue with a director, and of the need for musicians to communicate in a dramatic language rather than a musical one when writing for film. And then there’s Glen Aitken’s notes – they are a literate and incisive reading of the score concept and how it works in the film. I read the notes before I listened to the album, and they encouraged me to listen to this CD in the context of the film first.

    So let’s talk about the music for the film. Every semester I lead a workshop in the dramatic use of music for film at the Sydney Film School. The audience is composition students who want to write for film, and film-makers finding their way with how to use music. My showcase example of how to score against the action for complex emotional response when I ran the workshop recently was the opening scene of Enduring Love. Leaving the scene-setting and balloon calamity at first to the crisp location sound effects, Sams comes in just when more propulsive music underlining the action would have been used. And he brings the music that would normally have been written for the location – Vaughan-Williams’ style writing for violin and string orchestra. (And in a totally different manner to how ‘The Lark Ascending’ was adapted by James Newton-Howard for his superlative score to The Village.)

    But ‘Balloon Music’ is more than subversive pastoral scoring – it sets the tone for an unusual event and lays the foundations for its tragic outcome. As five men are carried into the air hanging onto an out-of-control balloon, the cue evokes their unexpected sense of elevation, with a gentle three chord progression affirming that all are safe as the men jump to safety. Except one man, who dangles precariously as the balloon goes higher and higher. As the three note chord progression is delayed in its reprisal (it doesn’t return), strings fade away and only a solo violin remain, with a nice descending line accompanying the man’s fall and one of the best edits in recent film. Sams explains in the liner notes that this cue was written five times before it satisfied the needs of the scene – it’s this sort of careful iterative process that produces great film music moments like that.

    I could say a lot more, but the thing to do is to buy this one, watch the film, and consider both carefully. The film is a strong interpretation of a fine novel, with strong performances and craft underwriting it, especially in its musical score. I hope to hear a lot more of Jeremy Sams’ music in films to come.

    Michael McLennan

    5

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