The Film and TV Music of Christopher Gunning
Music composed by Christopher Gunning.
12 Tracks (Playing Time = 75:57)
Album produced by Brian Pidgeon and Mike George. Featuring soprano Nicole Tibbels; guitarist Craig Ogden; saxophonist Martin Robertson; and the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Rumon Gamba. Recorded at Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 14 July, 2009, and 4 January, and 15 and 17 June, 2010. Recording engineered by Stephen Rinker. Music edited by Jonathan Cooper. Design by Cassidy Rayne Creative.
Rumon Gamba’s survey of British and American Film music has tended to focus on recordings that showcase some of the most familiar scores and composers alongside the less familiar. The present compilation in some respects may seem like it belongs to the latter category but more people may have heard Christopher Gunning’s music than they realize, especially if they are fans of BBC programming, or PBS television imports of the same. Gunning’s television and film career has spanned some forty years and the list of projects is impressive. He has been nominated for six BAFTAs and won three times in the TV category for his work on MIDDLEMARCH, AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT, and PORTERHOUSE BLUE. His first film score BAFTA came for his wonderful music for the 2007 Edith Piaf docudrama LA VIE EN ROSE. Overall, his music comes from the grand tradition of scoring filled with perfect orchestration and engaging thematic writing.
Gunning headed into his stacks of music to bring to this recording a collection of some of his finest work. The musical selections cover nearly his entire career. The tracks here are adaptations of the music into suite-like concert pieces of themes that recall some of Ron Goodwin’s concert recordings. The disc opens strongly with two of Gunning’s most familiar music. “Poirot Variants” is a concert arrangement of the main theme for AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT that begins rather mysteriously in this wonderful setting for solo alto saxophone (played by Martin Robertson) and orchestra. Poirot’s theme is hinted at throughout the nearly 9-minute work and eventually appears at its very end, mystery solved. Two selections from episodes in the series appear towards the end of the disc as well. “La Mome Piaf” is derived from the score for LA VIE EN ROSE with its prominent engaging waltz prominently displayed from this fine work.
Next comes a study in dissonance and darkness from a Liam Neeson film UNDER SUSPICION (1991). The music is more atmospheric along the lines of Barry’s BODY HEAT with a romantic melody at its center that is quite beautiful. COLD LAZURUS (1996) is a selection from a sci-fi mini-series score constructed here in four sections making for a fascinating brief suite that opens with a fluttery magical sound that is reminiscent of Herrmann and Shore/Barry (especially in the way the harmony moves) all wrapped in one fascinating orchestral package. It allows us to hear a bit of Gunning’s action music as well in the midst of a well-shaped concert work.
A couple of selections from Gunning’s television work follow. The “Rosemary and Thyme Caprice” comes from a BBC series featuring Felicity Kendall and Pam Ferris as two amateur sleuths. The familiar folk tune is set here in a light orchestral dress featuring a wonderful guitar solo (performed by Craig Ogden). This light-hearted idea is followed by another work for solo cello (featuring Julia Bradshaw) and orchestra from the darker romantic score for a TV version of REBECCA (1997). The theme here has an achingly beautiful mystery to it that receives some wonderful instrumental color variation that explodes into hugely romantic center before returning to its darker opening gaining in intensity. Music from a 2003 TV film, POLLYANNA, moves into a more light-hearted mode again to follow the more youthful story line coupled with some moments where the music suggests some minor conflict. There are some amazing little orchestral touches in this suite of themes from solo clarinet lines to magical writing for harp and winds somewhat akin to a Carl Davis score.
One of Gunning’s noted scores comes from a 1997 period drama, FIRELIGHT. The suite moves from a rather bleak beginning into a more childlike thematic idea and a final blossoming of another gorgeous romantic theme elaborated by a solo violin. The disc ends with another wonderful love theme from LIGHTHOUSE HILL (2004).
Music from one of the composer’s earliest scores, WHEN THE WHALES CAME (1989), gives us a chance to compare this earlier sound with Gunning’s newer music. The score is a haunting piece creating musical seascapes that incorporates real whale sounds and more atmospheric music as well as a fascinating female vocalise. It at times creates a ghostly backdrop that is touching and unsettling all at the same time (and reminiscent of a theme in Goldsmith’s STAR TREK—THE MOTION PICTURE). The selection is one of the discs biggest surprises and finest highlights.
The BBC Philharmonic is simply gorgeous in this recording from Chandos. The rich detail of the orchestra makes this another stellar effort from their growing series of film music recordings. The sequencing of the selections is also a strong point of the disc as the music flows well from one selection to the next.
Out of the many similar compilations, this is one that you may find yourself returning to consistently as the variety of music, strong thematic construction, and engaging orchestration is a reminder that Gunning remains one of Great Britain’s finest contemporary film composers. Easily one of the best compilation discs of the year.
--Steven A. Kennedy, 17 December 2010
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