Review by Brad Green:
James Horner owns a sound that is among the most recognisable of all Hollywood soundtrack composers. His lush strings, twinkling pianos and rich orchestral tonality take about a bar-and-a-half – at their most elusive – to be identified. (And are as easily digested as the glass-and-a-half of full cream milk contained in a certain confectionary.)
So one of the niceties of Horner’s technique is that he often augments his familiar symphonic diction with a featured soloist or particular instrument. From one score to another these have been as diverse as Horner’s own style has been consistent: the uilleann pipes of Titanic, Charlotte Church’s angelic vocals on A Beautiful Mind and, here, the bow wielding abilities of violinist Joshua Bell.
Bell, who wowed us with his finger acrobatics on John Corigliano’s Oscar-winning Red Violin soundtrack, has fewer notes to play in this instance, but delivers them with exquisite lyricism; the modest manual and musical dexterity required placing the emphasis, not unwelcomely, on his silken timbre and nonpareil vibrato.
Horner’s scores are inevitably built on the foundation of a strong, central theme and this one is no exception. As always, the motif turns up in varying instrumental guises across the score, but chiefly it is expressed by the virtuoso violinist. The melody is appropriately nostalgic and serves an important function in the film’s narrative, symbolising the link between the elder, deteriorating Iris and flashbacks to the healthier, happier days of her youth.
On CD, the score is arranged into eight lengthy “parts” rather than a clutter of cues. And the liner notes contain a micro-synopsis for each of these parts. These help, along with the unfolding nature of the music, to provide a listening experience that is not merely loaded with sentiment, but gives a definite sense of a remarkable life’s journey. The iris of Iris’s of experiences – from her joie de vivre as a young intellectual to the metamorphoses wrung from the ravages of time and neurological disease – are reflected in the tonal colours of Horner’s orchestral palette.
The final part is the celtic song A Lark In The Clear Air, performed by Kate Winslet as the young Iris. Winslet gives a lovely rendition of the tune, with a naturalness that a professional diva might have lost, and forms a delightful, contrasting duet with Bell, who trills lark-imitating phrases between her lines. It makes for a poignant coda to a soundtrack that is unusually successful sans pictures. Alone it tells a story, and it tells it with great tenderness.
Published April 4, 2002
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COMPOSER/CONDUCTOR: James Horner
FEATURED SOLOIST: Joshua Bell (violin)