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Mr Holmes
  • Composed by Carter Burwell
  • Lakeshore Records / 2015 / 39m

I’ve been thinking on many occasions recently that it’s a shame it’s been such a long time since anyone made a Sherlock Holmes movie or tv show, so Bill Condon’s Mr Holmes is a real boon.  Ian McKellen plays the famous sleuth, living out his retirement and succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease, trying to recall his last case, thirty years earlier.  Condon continues his productive relationship with composer Carter Burwell, who has disappeared a little over the last couple of years (his last three scores have all been for Condon movies) – it’s good to have him back.  His elegant score is perfect at evoking Holmes in his dotage.  The main theme – which is everywhere – is superb.  It’s two themes really, almost always intertwined with each other.  The opening cue sets the scene – the elegant melody has a touch of melancholy, the pace is generally slow, there are occasional drives of energy like memories flooding back, the ending feels slightly unresolved, as if there’s a bit more left to come.  The best film composers can somehow nail an entire film in a three minute piece of music and that’s what Burwell has done here.

The instrumental palette is interesting.  The orchestra is of chamber proportions, the focus frequently on solo winds including some exotic ones (the Japanese shakuhachi has a key role to play – most film music fans will know it through James Horner’s use of it but Burwell’s is much softer, gentler, more melodious), plus the distinctive glass armonica, which adds a great feeling of transparent colour whenever it appears.  There’s a playful quality to much of the music, but it’s a fascinatingly geriatric playfulness – the pace generally slow, but with a cheeky glint underneath.  The other quality that runs through the score is warmth – a decency to go alongside the sparks of intelligence.  The album is a leisurely 40-minute stroll, an attractive one, essentially a series of variations on a theme but it never gets stale.  The beautifully crisp recording is a real asset.  It’s lovely to hear this fine composer back doing what he does best.

Rating: **** | |

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