• Desplat's Little Women Score Charms

    After exploring a more modern coming of age story in 2017’s Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig turned her attention to a more period drama expressing the challenges of Alcotts’ March sisters in Little Women.  The critically-acclaimed adaptation received 2 Golden Globe nominations and 6 Oscar nominations.  In both cases, composer Alexander Desplat’s (Adults in the Room, Isle of Dogs, The Shape of Water) score was among them.

    The album opens with a delightful title scherzo of scurrying strings.  The open harmonic ideas here have a style that recalls an approach from Desplat’s earlier days in The Luzhin Defence (2000).  A nice lyrical line wafts across the sort of gentle arpeggio patterns that would become more common later, but these here feel better integrated into the quick shifts and turns of phrase that hint at a more classically-oriented direction.  Thematic threads also help add to the interest of the music as it bubbles along.  (The score has a slightly more “serious” quality than what one hears in say Lunn’s Downtown Abbey work, of which this is a very close cousin; “Telegram”.)  What Desplat captures in his score is a gentle joy and discovery that is like light, impressionistic brushes of color.  While some of his signature minimalist arpeggiations appear throughout the score, it is far more interesting to hear how additional layers of color are added throughout the score.  It provides another way for the ideas to spin forward.  Along the way are some really amazing harmonic points that are striking (especially in “The Beach”).  It is heartwarming and touching without being overly melodramatic.  As the score progresses, there is just one moving, beautiful moment after another recalling some of the composer’s greatest work of the past.  A bit of humor is instilled in the delightful writing of “The Book”.  At the center of the score, things move towards slightly more dramatic writing and hints of darker moments (“Laurie and Jo on the Hill”; “Jo Writes”) (this central section of the score has parallels in Williams’ Stepmom and Marianelli’s Pride and Prejudice).

    Little Women is certainly deserving of the praise it has received.  The score is simply stunning in its blend of colors and unique harmonies and it seems to evolve as the story does as well.  The orchestral style provides plenty of hints to an earlier age, often being more closely aligned to a cross between mid-20th Century English string music with slight nods to the dissonance one finds in lighter Shostakovich (“Dance on the Porch”; “The Book”).  And yet, all of this is part of the wonderful musical tapestry that Desplat explores in this excellent score featuring a prominent piano line, strings, harp, and nice wind colors.

  • Nice RPO Compilation of Modern Film Music



    Hollywood Blockbusters 2, the latest compilation of film music from the Royal Philharmonic, explores scores from the last five years.  The recordings here were captured in two studio sessions; one in December of 2012 and one in January of 2015.  Nic Raine returns to the podium for this interesting collection of arrangements, some his own, some by Paul Bateman, and a host of others.

    Most of the tracks come from more serious dramatic films, but a few unique animation scores show up as well.  The disc opens with “Dragon Racing” from John Powell’s equally delightful sequel score How to Train Your Dragon 2.  Later an interesting little suite from Nick Urata’s Paddington score provides a bit of unusual syncopation and comedy scoring that the orchestra seems to take to quite well, and there is an instrumental of “Let it Go” from Frozen as a penultimate track lending a more pop feel.  That precedes the title Skyfall Bond song from Adele as a fitting close.

    John Williams is featured in three selections from his dramatic scores for Lincoln, The Book Thief—with a beautiful piano opening by Andy Vinter, and War Horse.  These are actually well done with their sweeping themes providing a nice contrast to the tracks they are lodged between.  Johannsson’s beautiful score from The Theory of Everything is represented by the touching “Domestic Pressures” which is contrasted by “Time” from Zimmer’s Inception score.  A brief flirtation with Broadway then occurs from selections to Into the Woods providing a lighter musical diversion.  Music from The King’s Speech offers a glimpse at Desplat’s light and restrained style for a track which takes its name from the film’s title.  Marianelli’s beautiful score for Anna Karenina is represented with the Russian-tinged waltz “Dance With Me.”  Fantasy fans get a brief nod as well with the inclusion of Shore’s moving “Ironfoot” from The Battle for Five Armies which adds chorus.

    What makes this release work is its well-conceived sequencing of musical styles from these contemporary films.  A good sense of individual composer voices is quite discernible throughout.  The choices are engaging and of course excellently performed with gorgeous sound and vibrant interpretations.  It really is yet another of many highlights from the RPO one that will make you want to go back and listen to many of the scores represented here.