The French Lieutenant's Woman

CD Review: Heroines In Music

As the music industry continues to change, more film composers are taking the business of their music into their own hands. Mark Isham recently created Mark Isham Music and Klaus Badelt is releasing CD-R’s and digital downloads through his site. But Carl Davis was one of the first, aggressively releasing previously unreleased scores on his Carl Davis Collection beginning last year. His latest disc, HEROINES IN MUSIC, brings together four lovely scores from literary adaptations in film and television.

THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN (1981) gave Meryl Streep her first top-billing starring role. She plays the dual roles of Sarah/Anna, an outcast in Victorian England and the contemporary woman playing her in the film version of the story. Her relationship with a married man (Jeremy Irons) runs parallel to that of her onscreen character. The screenplay doesn’t always successfully convey the complexities of John Fowles’ celebrated novel. But it’s a bewitching film, mainly due to Streep and Davis’ passionate score.

Davis orchestrated the score for strings and harps, with primarily viola and cello solos. The haunting main theme, scored for cello solo, gives voice to Sarah’s loneliness and resignation to her lot in life. The theme’s sturm und drang captures the bleak picture of Sarah walking on the storm-swept quay, her hooded cape blowing in the wind. The churning undertones of dangerous passion come to a head in “Escape,” as harp glissandi and violin, viola and cello soli fight for emotional dominance until the main theme reappears shrieking in the high strings. As Sarah asserts herself, Davis’ glimmers of light appear in the harmonies.

The original soundtrack listening experience was marred by the contemporary source cues, which broke up the fluidity of Davis’ music. Not so in this reading. Davis’ ravishing music in this “musical portrait” flows from one emotional cue to the next.

Heroines In Music CD
“The French Lieutenant’s Woman – Escape”
“Pride and Prejudice Suite – I. Meet the Family”

Anita Brookner’s Booker Prize-winning novel HOTEL DU LAC served as the basis for the 1986 BBC TV movie. Anna Massey stars as a lonely middle-aged writer who flees from romantic disappointment in London to a luxury hotel on a Swiss lake. Davis turned his themes into an 11-minute “nocturne.” The television version had a chamber ensemble made up of a small orchestra, guitar, and synthesizers. For the recording, Davis reorchestrated the music into a ravishing one-movement concerto for piano, saxophone, and full orchestra.

The 1995 miniseries of Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE was justifiably lauded by critics and embraced by the public. Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth gave star-making performances as Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, and Davis’ music captures all the sparkling wit of Austen’s rapturous prose. Classically orchestrated, the music sounds as if it could have come directly from the Bennet’s sitting room. French horn rips and Mozartian piano runs joyously combine in “Meet the Family.” Davis says in the liner notes that the cue is now his musical “calling card.”

CRANFORD and RETURN TO CRANFORD were based on the classic novels of Elizabeth Gaskell. The popular BBC miniseries told the story of rural 19th Century Lancashire and the threat posed by the intrusion of a railroad on their quaint British village. Davis combines music from both scores into an extended seven-movement suite. As with the other scores on this disc, the Cranford Suite is classically orchestrated. Except for the somber “Two Funerals,” Davis’ genteel music veers between light and airy cues such as “Amazons” and “Procession of the Guests” and the sweet woodwind strains found in tender tracks like “Sophie and Dr. Harrison.”

The four scores included on this disc provide a consistently enjoyable listening experience. Davis conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in passionate readings of this marvelous music. If you are unfamiliar with Davis’ work, HEROINES IN MUSIC will serve as a welcome introduction. That the literary gimmick works as well as it does is a testament to Davis’ talent and craftsmanship.

  1. They’ve stuck posters advertising this release all over my local London Underground station, which is certainly quite unusual!

  2. somehow the “Meet the Family” music had escaped my ears all these years – i never did see the ’95 P&P miniseries and i didn’t realize i was missing out on such wonderful music

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