Film Music Review
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Heroines in Music


Heroines in Music

Music composed and conducted by Carl Davis.

19 Tracks (Playing Time = 76:36)

Album produced and edited by Andrew Walton. Music orchestrated by Christopher Palmer (THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN); Nic Raine (HOTEL DU LAC); Mark Warman (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE); and Carl Davis (CRANFORD). Music performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra; featuring Melvyn Tan, piano (HOTEL DU LAC, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE). Recorded at Henry Wood Hall, Trinity Square, London, June 11-12 and October 13, 2010. Recording engineered by Phil Rowlands.

Carl Davis Collection 010

Rating: ****


With much of his time working on contemporary film scores for classic silent films, Carl Davis tended to fade from the contemporary film score scene. Over the past decade, however, he has continued with a series of strong scores for BBC Television (most notably CRANFORD). The music on this recent compilation was recently recorded with the Philharmonia Orchestra, one presumes after, or during like-programmed concerts. Davis has selected music from four scores here that all come from novels featuring strong female characters.

1981’s THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN featured the only score Davis ever received an Oscar nomination for to date. The score’s central love theme appears frequently enough on film music compilation releases, but this recently compiled “Musical Portrait” is the first time the music’s disparate and brief elements have been brought together. Davis’ notes relate that this presentation brings together this often shorter ideas into the most complete presentation of the music from the film. Arranged in 2010, the eight-movement work is a moving and rather dramatic piece for strings, with harp. Most prominent is the decision to keep prominent string soloists in the foreground of the music creating a string quartet intimacy for many of Davis’ themes. The results are gorgeous and quite moving making this a fairly successful concert piece.

Two suites for BBC novel adaptations appear after a “Nocturne” from the 1986 film score HOTEL DU LAC. The brief “Nocturne” is a romantic adagio reminiscent of a Rachmaninoff second-movement from the piano concert, featuring Melvyn Tan. Davis expanded and developed the scoring further by recasting the original synthesizer support to other elements in the orchestra. The once important guitar idea is rewritten for piano, but a prominent alto sax idea from the original score, played here wonderfully by Amy Dickinson, is retained. This work allows the listener to appreciate the way Davis explores different colors of the orchestra more subtly as well as having a central wittier section for the two soloists.

The BBC’s adaptation of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1995) is perhaps one of their better Jane Austen adaptations with delightful Colin Firth as the seemingly distant Mr. Darcy. This is one of Davis’ most rightly popular scores and the three movement suite here pulls together the opening theme to “Meet the Family” in its first movement. The quickness of the opening music is a welcome shift after the more moody and reflective slower half of the CD presentation. After revisiting these character ideas in the breezy opening, the second movement focuses on some period pastiche with a fun bassoon-driven Gavotte and a Baroque-like second theme. The final movement includes some quotations from Mozart, and Cherubini while focusing on the love theme representing “Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.”

A more complete presentation of the score for CRANFORD (2007) appeared earlier in the releases in this “collection.” For the “Cranford Suite” Davis pulled together music from both the original series and the subsequent THE RETURN TO CRANFORD (2009) series. The suite hearkens back to other English orchestral suites of the first part of the 20 th century that use various dance styles and folk-like melodic material in a somewhat 18 th-century orchestration. There is a lot of romantic music here in slow swathes of sound that only slightly overstays its welcome. The seven-minute final movement, “Sophie and Dr. Harrison,” includes some beautifully romantic music, but seems a bit overlong—though that may be more due to the general length of the entire CD than to the suite itself.

Overall, Heroines in Music makes for a lovely and ample collection of some of the composer’s most beautiful music.

Film music fans will especially be interested in the music from THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN and fans of the BBC series will enjoy the smaller contained musical portions served up here. The Philharmonia performs these works beautifully and the sound is crystal clear and warm.

The release may become one of the real treasures of this continuing releases in the Carl Davis Collection and is highly recommended.

-- Steven A. Kennedy, 18 April 2011

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