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The Piano Framed
  • Composed by George Fenton
  • Shogun / 70m

George Fenton’s career has seen him move from small-scale tv, radio and theatre projects to big epics, Hollywood romances and thrillers, a long association with BBC natural history documentaries, and lengthy collaborations with notable British directors as diverse as Richard Attenborough and Ken Loach.

The Piano Framed is, I believe, the first compilation of his music. As its name suggests, it’s a piano album, with all the pieces arranged and performed by regular Fenton collaborator Simon Chamberlain. The 24 tracks cover a wide range of the composer’s projects from small to big and offer an interesting summary of a diverse body of work.

George Fenton

The album opens with the brilliantly breezy theme from You’ve Got Mail (perhaps the best score ever written for a film like that) – full of light romance, a bit of a ragtime feel, it’s great. The jazzy Living Out Loud is delightful. I’ve always loved the theme from We’re No Angels and it shines here; Groundhog Day sounds as it’s never sounded before – I doubt you would guess which film this moving little piece comes from in a blind tasting.

The gorgeous theme from Dangerous Beauty sounds wonderful in this form, and other music from Fenton’s collaborations with director Andy Tennant is also served well – the classic fairytale sound of Ever After, the brilliant love theme from Anna and the King (probably my favourite Fenton score), the subtler sweetness of Sweet Home Alabama.

The most recent film represented is Woman Walks Ahead, whose main theme is touching and emotional; the oldest is The Monocled Mutineer, a BBC miniseries from 1986, which actually has two tracks on the album – the jolly main theme and the delightful “The Moonlighters’ Waltz”.

Fenton’s numerous BBC natural history scores are represented by just two selections here – they are very big scores in scale and perhaps harder to represent in this format, but the stunning theme from The Blue Planet sounds as good as it ever has. We also get “The Lucky Planet” from Planet Earth, which is melancholic and reflective.

From the prestige dramas Fenton’s done, we get the moving, dramatic, classically-inclined theme from Dangerous Liaisons (and the Stephen Frears collaboration is also represented by the brilliant theme from Accidental Hero, though it would be a stretch to describe that as a “prestige drama”); and the brilliant theme from the rich, beautiful Shadowlands, one of the composer’s best. I love the elegant theme from A Handful of Dust, somehow managing to encapsulate both the period and the tragic romance at the heart of the story even in this form. Another period drama is The Woodlanders whose theme has a certain austere beauty about it.

The wonderful opening title from White Palace is a treat, as it always is (and didn’t need as much rearrangement given it was for solo piano already). The delicate theme from Richard Eyre’s Stage Beauty is a treat; and another great theatre director who makes occasional excursions to the big screen, Nicholas Hytner, has two films represented – the touching theme from the exceptional The Lady in the Van and the gentle romance of The Object of My Affection.

Fenton’s lengthiest and most prolific directorial collaboration comes with Ken Loach – they’ve done 15 films together. The music in them is often somewhat low-key and intimate; and only one of them is represented on this album, including the very first one, 1994’s Ladybird, Ladybird – it’s a touching piece and a great representation of the whole collaboration in fact, with Fenton gently nudging Loach’s great portrayals of social injustice rather than ever overwhelming them.

Pianist Chamberlain is very familiar with Fenton’s music and brings out the best of it in his arrangements, focusing always on the melody rather than trying to invent any florid touches around it, and that approach works well. Fenton’s a great composer who seems sadly underutilised in recent years – The Piano Framed is a lovely roundup of some of his finest melodies and any Fenton fan will likely love it.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Marco Ludema (Reply) on Monday 17 August, 2020 at 18:45

    Dear Mr Southall, do you perhaps take review suggestions? Just curious.

    • James Southall (Reply) on Monday 17 August, 2020 at 18:48

      I do (but obviously can only review things I actually own!)

      • Marco Ludema (Reply) on Tuesday 18 August, 2020 at 13:15

        Well, I would love to hear your opinion about the Spider-Man: Far From Home soundtrack and some of the works of Charlie Clouser. If you’re up to it, of course.

        • James Southall on Wednesday 19 August, 2020 at 13:11

          I have been meaning to do Spiderman for a long time, and I will get to that. But I’m not familiar with the music of Charlie Clouser at all.

        • Marco Ludema on Wednesday 19 August, 2020 at 13:35

          He has been responsible for the scores of all eight Saw movies, alongside his work on other movies like Dead Silence and tv shows like Wayward Pines.

  2. Benjamin Stock (Reply) on Tuesday 18 August, 2020 at 00:58

    Can you review The Mandalorian?

    • James Southall (Reply) on Wednesday 19 August, 2020 at 13:12

      I was hoping they’d release a single CD of highlights from it. I did get the first three episode scores but really didn’t like them very much.