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Mary Queen of Scots
  • Composed by Max Richter
  • Deutsche Grammophon / 59m

The latest of many tellings of the story, Josie Rourke’s Mary Queen of Scots stars Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as her cousin Elizabeth I of England – and tells the story of the war between the countries in 1569. The music comes courtesy of the talented, acclaimed Max Richter.  It opens with “The Shores of Scotland”, in which the regal, magnificent main theme is heard. It’s specifically regal, actually – the string figure comes very close to Handel’s Zadok the Priest (written for the coronation of King George II in 1727 – a century and a half after Mary) and then the central melody sounds a little like it’s from Pachelbel’s Canon – but regardless of where it comes from, it’s a truly handsome piece of music. It reaches its zenith in the stunning “A New Generation”, an incredible piece (undoubtedly the score’s finest) where that main theme soars in majestic glory.

Elsewhere, a reasonable portion of the body of the underscore is rather darker in nature (as you might expect). “A Claim to the Throne” has a stark tragedy to it, ominous drums and horns with subtle choir; but then the very next cue, “If Ye Love Me”, is a liturgical choral piece which is extremely beautiful. “Darnley’s Visit” has a more restrained arrangement of the main theme and it is just lovely; but then comes “The Wedding”, which is anything but – dark, angry, oppressive (we’ve all been to weddings like that, I guess). In “The Ambush”, Richter cleverly takes the “A Claim to the Throne” template but this time emphasises the voices, giving it a chilling, haunting feeling. But despite all the fine moments, I’m not sure how often I will return to this – it’s one of those rare occasions where repeated listening has actually made me like the album a little less – apart from the main theme and its variants and the last couple of cues, much of the rest really is rather dark and depressing, not to mention repetitive – the use of drums to signal impending danger, the string-led laments – there’s a small core of ideas here repeated frequently, too much really to sustain interest throughout an album which could probably have been better had it not been so long. I mentioned the last couple of cues – “The Assassination” is very powerful with a really beautiful conclusion, and the lengthy “Finale” has a pastoral beauty to it which is hard to resist. There’s half an hour of real brilliance here – Richter is such a good composer – just a pity the whole thing is not quite as good as the sum of its parts.

Rating: *** 1/2 | |

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