- Composed by Benjamin Wallfisch
- Deutsche Grammophon / 2013 / 51m
Set in a small Cornish coastal village just before the outbreak of the First World War, Summer in February tells the true story of a young lady who starts being schooled by the painter A.J. Munnings, and inevitably falls for him – and one of his friends. I haven’t seen it, but it looks more like a Sunday evening British tv drama (and even has one of the stars of Downton Abbey in it, not doing much to counter that impression) and doesn’t seem to have found much of an audience in the cinema.
The score is by young British composer Benjamin Wallfisch, perhaps still best-known as orchestrator and conductor for Dario Marianelli, but who has also been making a name for himself as a composer in his own right (and in film terms, last year’s Conquest 1453 is perhaps his most popular effort to date). For me, the utterly charming Summer in February is his best work so far, and while the film doesn’t seem destined to make much of an impression, perhaps the score will (it deserves to).
The album opens with the wonderful main theme, which serves the score well in a variety of guises as it progresses. In the opening “Lamorna”, there is a distinct James Horner feel (Legends of the Fall in particular) in the way the piano solo is framed against the warm orchestral backing, the melody later taken up by the winds. The piano solos are played beautifully by Yuja Wang (whose presence is responsible for the score’s somewhat unlikely appearance on Deutsche Grammophon).
“Mirror” immediately flips the theme round, the bright and summery air of the opening piece replaced by a considerably darker set of hues; and yet another completely different feeling from the very same theme comes in “The Races”, a pacy piece whose upfront piano is a joy. Then, “Painting” is an exquisite piece, an expressive fantasy on the melody, charming and satisfying. In those first four cues, Wallfisch displays an excellent knack for melodic development, using his theme in such different ways to create a wide range of feelings.
Having said that – this is not a monothematic score by any means. “Gilbert’s Theme” is slightly aloof but there’s a charm and a swagger sitting under there waiting to be discovered; by contrast there seems quite a sadness to “Florence’s Theme”, a melancholy air that is certainly not unappealing. That melancholy air – occasionally becoming overwhelmed by anguish – becomes more prominent through the middle section of the album. “Unaccountable” – with its dramatic string phrases undulating under the constant presence of the piano – is a case in point.
One constant is beauty. Even through the sadness, there’s beauty. “Wedding” is far from cheerful but the female vocal that opens the piece is wonderful. Then “Cyanide” is more grandly dramatic – big gestures from the strings, Florence’s Theme eventually emerging on piano in an intense arrangement. The lengthy “Final Kiss” brings together a host of emotions – romance, of course, but still there’s a sadness. It’s an exquisite piece of music, highlighting violin and piano solos and warmer material from the larger orchestra. In the dramatic “The Storm”, the bold piano strokes ratchet the tension and drama up a few more notches – it’s another fine piece.
Wallfisch brings closure to his themes in the last few cues – after the violence of “The Storm”, “Aftermath” is a calm, surprisingly sweet change of pace. There is romance and joy as you might expect in “Gilbert Returns”, all restraint now forgotten as the strings swell, gloriously so. “Siren’s Lullaby” reprises the vocal heard earlier in “Wedding”, initially in a similarly solemn arrangement before the composer develops the melody with the orchestra, finally returning to a warmer vocal arrangement. The disc concludes with the beautiful “Epilogue: Morning Ride”, Wang’s piano shining once again, this time with slight echoes of Richard Adinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, Dangerous Moonlight and all that – there’s a vintage sound very appropriate for the film’s period. Summer in February is a really impressive album, sure to appeal to fans of the romantic scores of Rachel Portman, Horner or Marianelli. Highly recommended.