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Indian Summers
  • Composed by Stephen Warbeck
  • Silva Screen / 2015 / 63m

Set in the later years of the British rule in India, Indian Summers is a ten-part series looking at a group of British socialites who spend their summers in a town near the Himalayan foothills.  The key focus is of course on their relationships with the locals and the growing resistance among the Indians towards their unwanted overlords.  It’s a very handsome production – it looks so beautiful (though Malaysia actually stands in for India) – and Julie Walters leads an excellent cast – but it all felt a bit muted to me, the drama itself very monochrome in contrast to the vivid colours of the sights and sounds.

Responsible for the aural side of that coin is Stephen Warbeck, who made his name in British television before making the move into film in the late 1990s (winning an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love).  His music is a delicious mix of Indian styles and feelings with much more Western melodies and drama, the orchestra augmented by numerous soloists; while all “Indian” film music written by Europeans and Americans is essentially that, it’s of course very appropriate here given the subject matter and the fact that it’s deliberately “Western music” with an Indian tinge rather than an attempt at something more authentically Indian is probably wise.

Stephen Warbeck

Stephen Warbeck

The album starts, appropriately enough, at “The Beginning”, a bustling sort of cue, an array of exotic percussion and other Indian soloists – a kind of measured chaos, with the main theme (vaguely – and I’m sure entirely coincidentally – reminiscent of Elliot Goldenthal’s from Final Fantasy) making its first, brief appearance; and the opening sequence of five cues – running twelve minutes or so – is truly outstanding, setting the scene perfectly.  Much calmer and laid back is “Indian Summers” which follows, the percussion this time gentler, the reed solo which dominates the early exchanges exotic and gorgeous; gradually the strings build, the feeling warm and languid and unending, rather like Indian summers in fact.  Then the main theme gets a gorgeous arrangement in “Aafrin and Seeta”, piano dominating with other soloists lending the local flavour, alongside that thus far ever-present percussion.  “Defiance” ups the tempo and the drama, with a growing tension in the air, a noble passion running through it; then “Simla” is an elegant, achingly beautiful waltz, but also it has a strained feel, things palpably being left unsaid.

Some subtle electronics are heard in the suspenseful “A Matter of Honour”, gently nailbiting in its way.  “Song for Rain” features a yearning wordless vocal, then the yearning is taken up by a reed and turns to sorrow and hurt in “Before the Hanging”.  “The Hills” continues the mood but it’s a piece of fascinating colour, just a solo Indian guitar of some sort against percussion but Warbeck draws much out of that, complex textures emerging.  Complex too is “Alice and Aafrin”, delicate hints of the main theme not quite willing to reveal themselves – again that undercurrent of things being left unsaid, emotions left unresolved.  It’s clever film music, making its point subtly but effectively.

“The Gun” brings the tempo back up again, and a frenzy builds with layer upon layer of percussion and solo winds backed by the strings, energetic and very tense.  A piano solo provides the release in the next cue, “Alice”, a beautiful reprise of the waltz theme from earlier in the score, and one of the score’s loveliest moments.  “The Dance and the Kiss” has a driving energy to it, also an air of mystery (it’s far from what you might expect from the cue title).  By contrast “The Hut” is delicate, tender, romantic and absolutely beautiful.

The landscape in “The Coroner” turns completely bleak and desolate, awkward little phrasings intertwining to create disharmony.  This leads into the gorgeous “The Conversation”, a beautiful musical dance, so full of feeling.  “To the Club” is refreshing and airy before things turn a little sour again in “Eviction Notice”, an anger bubbling towards the surface.  “Aafrin” offers a brief, romantic interlude but the score’s darkness reaches its zenith in its longest cue, the six-minute “The Hospital”, which pulses sorrowfully along before the main theme struggles to break out in the later moments.  Fortunately there’s a jolly spirit to “Waiting for Night”, a sprightly piece with a dramatic sting in its tail, explored more fully in “Murder Charge” which is another of the score’s signature “controlled chaos” pieces.  Things are then wrapped up in the splendid “The End”, the main theme getting one last workout.

Stephen Warbeck has written some fine music before but there is a depth to Indian Summers which sets it apart as the finest thing I’ve heard him do so far.  It’s rich and at times emotionally complex, but at the same time it has a relaxing quality to it – the hour-long album moves at a leisurely pace but seems to drift along as if carried by a gentle breeze, thanks in part to the almost ever-present percussive underbelly; and the local Indian colour is injected with great skill, the score’s key component being the clash of cultures.  It’s the finest television music I’ve heard so far this year and is highly recommended.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Chalres Connors (Reply) on Saturday 3 October, 2015 at 21:31

    I agree, the ‘Simla’ theme is achingly beautiful. But I can’t help thinking I’ve heard this waltz somewhere before. Perhaps that is part of it’s quality, it is very evocative. Do you think he has used this theme somewhere in the past? I doubt it’s a from folk theme, or any such, because it would have been titled as such. What do you think?