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Film Music Review (Volumes 1-7)





Elizabeth: The Golden Age [Music from the Motion Picture]



Music composed and arranged
by Craig Armstrong and A.R. Rahman.

20 Tracks (Playing Time = 48:42)



Album produced by Craig Armstrong, A.R. Rahman, and Geoff Foster. Orchestrated by Matt Dunkley and Craig Armstrong. Programming and additional arrangements by David Donaldson. Additional orchestration, arrangement, and programming by Kazimir Boyle. Featuring Catherine Bott Sarah Eyden, solo sopranos; Catherine O’Halloran, vocals. Metro Voices, and orchestra conducted by Cecilia Watson. Score recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster at Air Studios, Lyndhurst. Mastered by Jonathan Shultz and Lawrence Manchester at HowE Building, NY. Music edited by Jennifer Dunnington. Art direction by Roxanne Slimak. Graphic design by Elisabeth Ladwig.

Decca B0009829-02

Rating: ****


ELIZABETH (1998) was one of those small films that turned out to be one of the highlights of the season and brought Cate Blanchett into the public eye in a standout performance. She returns for ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE which picks up a few years later as England stands on the brink of war with Spain. Much of the earlier films cast returns here but director Shekhar Kapur has chosen two composers to provide the musical language of the current film ( David Hirschfelder provided the Oscar-nominated score for the earlier film).

Both Craig Armstrong and Indian composer A.R. Rahman teamed together to provide the score which seems to expand upon the earlier film. Where the first film was more character driven, this one seems to move toward epic narrative drama. The music follows course.

After an odd tracked and timed silence, the “Opening” of the CD kicks off with a burst of dramatic energy featuring a busy Baroque-sounding violin and an orchestral sound complete with chorus that seems like a blend of Howard Shore and Hans Zimmer. The following “ Philip” adds unusual electronic sounds to the mix as well and a punctuated choral sound all continuing to underline the epic proportions of the score. The solo violin idea, played here by Clio Gould brings an added richness to the music that works hard to balance large-scale symphonic music and more gently scored moments of repose (as in “Now You Grow Dull”). Harmonically, the music tends to land on several colorful chords and then spin musical lines out of the texture. These lines are given “voice” in a soprano vocalise in “Bess and Raleigh Dance” which provides a glimmer of light in an otherwise dark and ominous orchestral sound. In “War/Realisation,” we are back to a musical aesthetic very close to a Zimmer action cue complete with drum machine and semi-tremolo string lines coupled eventually with a wordless choral idea.

There are some nice lyrical moments as well, “Destiny Theme” being one such place where a sweeping lyrical idea suggests great things but slides into a darker, quieter conclusion. There are themes later for “Love” (an almost Doyle-like theme and orchestration) and “Divinity” each exploring musically one aspect of Elizabeth’s character as it collides with history. (The latter track seems a bit misnamed since it lasts some five minutes and appears to be the theme plus a more ethnic-based musical idea. It is one of the highlights of the CD featuring a gorgeous soprano solo.) Other tracks tend to focus on underlining dramatic tension more specifically, often sounding like the kind of music that plays under flashbacks (“Dr. Dee Part 1”).

The larger battle cues tend to add in electronics (a la Zimmer and Media Ventures). “ Battle” does this so well that it could really be from almost any film. The second half of the disc tends to use electronics more noticeably than the first half of the CD. Most of the time though the music tends to hover around a particular couple of chord structures out of which bits and pieces of a thematic idea will appear. Often times a theme will appear to be heading towards a more pop-like song only to have the choir rush in with a big “Ah” in overly dramatic music. The final track, appropriately titled “Closing,” returns us to the music that kicked off the score and suggests that the struggles of the day have been overcome triumphantly. The final track ends with a huge crescendo that suggests re-edited themes or pop songs will follow the end credits roll.

The recording is very live with a close orchestral sound. A small point to quibble over, but why have a track marked “Dr. Dee Part 1” when there is no “Part 2”? The score suggests that subtle is not what will be experienced when experiencing this film. Using some of these musical gestures seems to lift the film out of its respective period to try and bring the viewer to draw parallels between the present and the film’s timeframe.

While the duo composer credit here will likely eliminate the score for contention by the Academy, it will likely end up on the Foreign Press’s Golden Globe list this year unless the score is so overpowering in the film that it distracts the viewer. By itself though, it is one of the more immediately engaging and consistently interesting scores this year.

--Steven A. Kennedy , 11 October 2007

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