La Vie en Rose

CD Review: The Film and TV Music of Christopher Gunning

If you’re a fan of British TV and film, you’re probably already familiar with the music of Christopher Gunning. But arguably Gunning’s biggest success came in 2007 with his BAFTA-winning score for the Edith Piaf biopic, LA VIE EN ROSE, which netted Marion Cotillard an Oscar, as well as nearly every other Best Actress award. The haunting accordion waltz at the core of the score forms one of 12 suites from an excellent new Chandos compilation of THE FILM AND TV MUSIC OF CHRISTOPHER GUNNING.

For 15 years, Gunning contributed music to AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT mysteries (shown in the U.S. on PBS). The album begins with “Poirot Variants,” a 9-minute noir-ish tango for saxophone and orchestra. The piece is written as a one-movement concerto and showcases Martin Robertson’s bravura sax playing. In addition, the album features selections from two POIROT episodes. A sweeping string melody underscores “The Hollow,” while a waltz for solo violin gives delicate voice to “The Five Little Pigs.”

The aftermath of a murder are explored in the dark tones of UNDER SUSPICION, a 1991 thriller starring Liam Neeson and Laura San Giacomo. Dotted rhythms, belching brass and tone clusters add drama and suspense. Pounding, syncopated brass (reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith’s BASIC INSTINCT) convey the heart-pounding terror of the 1996 sci-fi miniseries, COLD LAZARUS.

The 1997 TV adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s REBECCA gives Gunning the chance to compose music in a lush, old-Hollywood, romantic style. The solo cello opens the suite with a yearning melody of loneliness. The haunting theme is then passed around solo woodwinds and the strings. With a surging crescendo, the music leads into a soaring secondary theme that is as breathtaking as Manderley itself.

The Film & TV Music of Christopher Gunning

A pair of popular television gardeners-slash-sleuths inspired the gentle caprice from THE ROSEMARY AND THYME, which interweaves the famous folk tune among the solo guitar and recorder. A lovely flute solo captures the innocence of the immortal POLLYANNA in this 2003 television score.

The 1997 period drama, FIRELIGHT, about a young woman who has a baby for money, uses quiet pizzicato strings and a delicate piano theme to convey what Gunning calls “claustrophobia.” For the 1989 film WHEN THE WHALES CAME, Gunning composed a haunting melody set against oscillating whole-step intervals. The soprano solo is interwoven with slowed-down whale songs to create a unique, moving effect.

My favorite selection closes the album with the tender love theme from 2004’s LIGHTHOUSE HILL. As Gunning says in the liner notes, “I endeavoured to create feelings of romance and stillness, simplicity being the keynote.” The theme is indeed simplicity itself, quiet and lovely.

Rumon Gamba and the BBC Philharmonic play with their usual sensitivity, while the recording is vibrant and full. Chandos has once again added another illustrious disc to their always entertaining “Chandos Movies” line. Let’s hope that this excellent recording of Gunning’s music is a sign of more contemporary British composers to come.

As with most of the other entries in this series, this compilation does what a good compilation is supposed to–it peaks your interest to further explore the work of the composer. And if this CD is any indication, the film and TV music of Christopher Gunning is a rich, melodic world that deserves further exploration.

  1. Strangely enough, my only Christoper Gunning CD is his first scoring assignment; one from the 1970 film GOODBYE GEMINI (aka TWINSANITY), and it is particularly interesting as a reflection of the mercurial pop culture of the swinging London sixties, and for a jazzy style he seldom revisited. I highly recommend it (HARKIT HRKCD 8092). The intriguingly oddball film can also be seen on a recently released Scorpion DVD.

  2. ‘Cold Lazarus’ is a big, Goldsmithian masterpiece of television scoring – the original recording was performed by the LSO and is thoroughly deserving of expansion.

    Have you sampled any of Gunning’s non-film/TV work? His symphonies (also on Chandos) are good stuff.

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