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The Starling
  • Composed by Benjamin Wallfisch

I haven’t seen The Starling – I had intended to, but the reviews put me off – it’s usually referred to as a “comedy drama” and its plot surrounds a couple who lose their tiny baby to SIDS and then see their mental health collapse. It’s hard to see the comedy that arises from such a situation, and indeed said reviews are mostly a variation on “WTF was that?” – but I’ll watch it some time. You don’t need to watch the film to enjoy Benjamin Wallfisch’s music though. I think there were quite a few of us who followed his career with interest from when he broke away from being Dario Marianelli’s assistant and orchestra and went solo, providing some sublime scores for smaller dramas, culminating in the excellent Summer in February. Then one day, all of a sudden, he “made it” and started working on big blockbusters – and of course the intimate drama sound with which he made his name had to make way. I’ve been waiting for him to have a chance to go back to that sound though – he was so good at it – and this film is the one that’s given him the opportunity.

The brief score is absolutely gorgeous. There are only two real ideas in it, with most tracks being a variant on one or the other of them – the first is the fabulous main theme, with a tender piano (used so effectively by film composers over the years to give a domestic feel) solo accompanying tender strings, quite warm but always with the undercurrent of sorrow. A violin solo often floats in and out, creating a feeling of a kind of suspended animation, which is really effective. Sometimes it is distinctly downbeat – and a secondary theme, closely related to the first, is occasionally used instead. It reaches its peak in the soaring “Fly Free”, the kind of unabashed orchestral exuberance we don’t often hear in Hollywood film music any more, as the composer really lets his main theme soar. The other main idea is introduced in “Sternus Vulgaris”, which treads a fine line between the comedic and the intensely dramatic and treads it very well. Sharp stabbing strings, fast and fluid, give this theme a real edge which is what makes it so effective. I imagine this will be but a brief diversion for the extremely talented Wallfisch and he will continue to concentrate on his career with the blockbusters – but what a joy to hear him return to the sound that made me a fan in the first place. It’s such an elegant score, so well-crafted, and with a great main theme – highly recommended.

Rating: **** | |

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