Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


Bruce BROUGHTON The Master of Ballantrae Bruce Broughton conducts the London Sinfonia PROMETHEUS PCR 501 [49:19]  


Crotchet (UK)

Bruce Broughton is probably best remembered for his scores for Silverado; Young Sherlock Holmes; Honey; I Blew Up the Kid; and Tombstone. The Master of Ballantrae, set in 18th Century Scotland, was filmed in 1953 starring an ageing Errol Flynn; but this is the music for the 1984 TV mini series that starred the rather wooden Michael York (no Flynn, he). Broughton used a small orchestra to generally splendid effect, to add atmosphere and thrills to this swashbuckler of the glens, the high seas and India.

Broughton did his homework in London researching hundreds of old themes to use as his model eventually choosing to weave two Scottish themes through the score. The first, complete with bagpipes, is strong and full of swagger and the promise of adventure. The second theme first appears in the cue Rowan Tree and it is softer, more tender for the more romantic and intimate scenes.

Much of the music is darkly dramatic. "The Battle at Sea" cues are unusual. Beginning with a quiet remembrance of home, the music broadens and hints at salty seas and exotic locations with music that has a definite oriental/Indian tinge and grows more and more sinister. Intrigue is clearly afoot. Some of the material is very reminiscent of the more violent moments in Vaughan Williams 4th and 6th Symphonies and the influence of Herrmann is quite apparent too. Turbulent seas are portrayed and hand-to-hand combat between colliding ships' crews suggested. Broughton uses his spare orchestral resources imaginatively but their thinness does not have the power of a full symphony orchestra to really convey thrills and menace.

[This brings me to a pet hate. TV drama serials (and I am pointing the finger mainly at UK productions), some years ago, used source music from the classics by Wagner, Richard Strauss or Nielsen etc - i.e. - full-powered, full-blooded, Romantic music played by large orchestras which added much to enjoyment and credibility of the programmes. Now, too many of these programmes employ anaemic scores (that are often poor plagarisations of well known classics) played by ridiculously small ensembles and the effect is that they not only don't add excitement, romance or atmosphere but (for me at any rate) they positively work against the TV screenplay. Yes, I do understand there are budgetry difficulties but if programme makers can pre-sell their product to many countries why can they not remember the musical requirements a little more? End of sermon]

The Far Eastern exotic influence is strongly developed employing ethnic instruments in the cue "Closing In" that has a quiet furtiveness. An attractive "Colonial Minuet" features flute, strings and harpsichord. Broughton employs the harpsichord and harp to considerable effect throughout - in "Trouble Sleeping/Dead Man Gone", for instance, to create an eerie, ghostly effect as memories disturb the sleeper.

An unusual album, worth exploring  


Ian Lace

And Rob Barnett writes:-

This is one of those scores which would have benefited from more variety. It is quite individual in style, blending Scottish, Moorish and symphonic elements. However, after the first 20 minutes, it began to pall for lack of contrast.

The first track opens with a stentorian horn call topped off with salty sea-spray and Scottish-inflected phrase. This is delivered complete with braying symphonically caterwauling bag-pipes. I am usually allergic to this instrument but it fitted very well here. Let the wild adventure begin!

This is followed by a moody serenade and a hint (in the Caledonian elements) of Percy Grainger's wild Strathspeys and Reels and Malcolm Arnold's poetry (third Scottish Dance) and phantasmal humour (Tam O'Shanter). The music has none of the somewhat stuffy atmosphere encountered in some folksong adaptations.

If you are weary of commercial minimalism and the blandness of the many John Barry sound-alikes, give Broughton's score a spin. The music is gamely flavoured, and thank the Lord, it avoids bland tartan Scottishry. Instead it suggests a more essential Scottish mystery stretching back into prehistory (track 5) reaching deep into Celtic root-territory. The Moorish element is the paprika in the music and with it the oatmeal, whiskey and crowdie melt well together. Track 5 and 6 (Battle music) recall Rózsa's El Cid and Holst's Beni Mora as well as Shostakovich and Nielsen (the fifth symphonies of both).

Following track 6 Broughton, previously quite tough and bursting with swashbuckling invention, loses some of the initial drive and inspiration begins to dissipate.

The remaining highlights include the Adirondacks (8) sounding like a self-absorbed Indian dream dance, the Stewart elegy of track 9 with its acutely accented skirl of the brass and the reek of Whiskey fumes and peat-smoke and the final track which captures some of swooping ragged energy of the first track.

The plaintive voice of the oboe is strong in this score which reminded me of John Wilson's music for the BBC Scotland adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon's 'Cloud Howe'. Now THERE is some music which deserves a concert piece to be made from it and a recording is greatly needed.

The goodish booklet is well stocked with photos and there is a modestly helpful bit of commentary. The strong photos seem splendidly to recall the original production.

I want to review more Broughton scores but this one would have benefited from representation through a suite. The sound is not ideally refined but is vivacious enough. Recommended for the adventurer. Prepare to be rewarded.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

Ian Lace

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