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Far From the Madding Crowd
  • Composed by Craig Armstrong
  • Sony Classical / 2015 / 54m

Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd about a farm owner who attracts a trio of very different suitors hasn’t been short of cinematic adaptations over the years; the first recorded was a hundred years ago in 1915.  The most famous is probably John Schlesinger’s 1967 version with Julie Christie and Terence Stamp.  It received a modern reworking recently as Tamara Drewe.  The 2015 version comes from BBC Films, stars Carey Mulligan and is directed by Thomas Vinterberg, who co-founded the Dogme 95 movement with Lars Von Trier.

The elegant music comes from Craig Armstrong, his first score for a film like this I believe; and many people will be hoping that it is a long way from his last.  The gorgeous main theme is established in the “Opening”, the highlight of which is the rapturous solo violin.  It’s very reminiscent of Vaughan Williams and a style that has also been appropriated by James Newton Howard for some of his M. Night Shyamalan scores, particularly The Village.  Its pastoral nature, evocative of rolling fields and a wispy breeze, is the sound of England.

Craig Armstrong

Craig Armstrong

“Corn Exchange” is much lighter, just as delightful; airy and playful.  A more serious side is then developed in “The Great Misunderstanding”, the violin still providing the delicate colour but now accompanied by more sombre strains from the whole orchestra.  “Spring Sheep Dip” brings back the jaunty sound and is everything you might expect a piece called “Spring Sheep Dip” to be.  “Oak Returns” sees romance coming more to the fore, a subtle yearning slowly giving way to a lusher expression of emotion.

In “Never Been Kissed” there’s a sadness, the violin solo tentatively suggesting a growing exploration of feelings.  A gorgeous duet between violin and harp opens “Hollow in the Ferns”, a warm feeling added from the larger string section suggestive of light poking through the trees.  It’s one of the score’s real standouts, just beautiful.  “Bathsheba and Troy Wedding” is not all fun and games – there’s a real sadness running through it, a feeling that this is not the right thing.

“Fanny and Troy” is a dramatic turning point of sorts, a dynamic cue full of tragedy.  In “Troy Swims Out”, a piano solo accompanied by piercing strings is impressively haunting.  “Boldwood Variation” marks a return to warmer feelings, a sumptuous romantic piece with an air of English stateliness to it; just wonderful.  Then in “Time Moves On” the happy, summery style from much earlier in the score makes a welcome return, a spring back in the step.  “Oak Leaves” has a bittersweet feel to it but that doesn’t last long because immediately afterwards “Bathsheba and Oak Unite” in the most upliftingly romantic way.  The score comes full circle with a return to the beautiful main theme for the end credits before the composer rounds the disc out with an album arrangement, the rapturous “Far from the Madding Crowd Love Theme” which I predict is going to get an awful lot of airtime on Classic FM.

Spread through Armstrong’s score are a few songs and other source cues – a couple of hymns, some folk songs and ditties – which I prefer to programme out but your tastes may differ (the exception is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” which works very well where it is placed).  Far From the Madding Crowd is very different from anything I’ve heard from the composer before and I have to say it’s just gorgeous, one of the best things he’s ever done.  Romantic and beautiful but much more substantial than the Rachel Portman template usually applied to these things, it’s a serious work and deserves a very wide audience.  Certainly one of the scores of the year.

Rating: **** 1/2

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  1. Mastadge on Monday 27 April, 2015 at 00:29

    Thanks. Can’t wait to hear this! Have you listened to The Incredible Hulk yet?

  2. James Southall on Monday 27 April, 2015 at 00:35

    Nope… should I?

  3. Thiva on Monday 27 April, 2015 at 01:57

    James@ The Incredible Hulk is a good one though it sometimes seem like a RCP score. Any plans to write a review for The Hundred Foot Journey?

  4. mastadge on Monday 27 April, 2015 at 04:10

    Some would say no but to my ears it’s the best Marvel score yet (for what that’s worth). It did take a little while to grow on me but now it gets very regular play. It’s respectful of the character’s legacy — it uses the Harnell “lonely man” theme and while it doesn’t quote Elfman, it does have some moments that are not-too-distant cousins of Elfman’s descending motif (no respect for Shuki Levy, alas! http://shukilevy.com/audio/incredible-hulk/). More importantly, it successfully synthesizes big thematic action with the post-Bourne rhythmic approach. It’s one of my few 2-CD sets that I can listen to all the way through without my ears getting exhausted. The major change I’d make: it’s mostly in film order, but they put the End Credits music at the end of disc 1 and then a techno remix at the end of disc 2. I’d reprogram to delete the remix and move the credits music to the end of the whole arrangement. Anyone, yes, highly recommended. It’s obviously a very different beast than Armstrong’s other work but I think it’s very impressive. I’m happy to send you a copy, if you’d like.

  5. Pepper Skyberry on Wednesday 29 April, 2015 at 04:32

    Mr. Southall, If you enjoyed this album or even more energetic folksy scores like Isham’s “Fly Away Home,” I think you would really enjoy “Beasts of the Southern Wild” by Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin. It’s got a deep south character and is driven by a wonderful collection of little themes. It’s hard to describe what it sounds like; it’s different from any other score I’ve heard, intimate and intensely acoustic, if that makes any sense. Anyway I noticed you didn’t have a review of it up, so I wanted to let you know it existed. It’s one of my favorites of 2012 🙂