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The Wind That Shakes The Barley
  • Composed by George Fenton
  • Kronos Records / 2012 / 45:30

Ken Loach’s acclaimed The Wind That Shakes The Barley won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2006.  It takes a sympathetic look at Irish republicans in the early 20th century and the relationship between two brothers as the civil war unfolds.  George Fenton has written the music for about 15 of Loach’s films.  He’s a composer capable of lush, melodic, big music (and has written many wonderful scores in that vein) but of course that’s not really the type of music that you’re likely to find in a Ken Loach film; and The Wind That Shakes The Barley is the polar opposite of that.  The composer takes a restrained approach throughout, his music calm and respectful, careful to never overstep the mark and have even the faintest whiff of melodrama.

Sadly it’s also all really rather depressing.  There is not a single note of optimism in the whole score, which is perfectly understandable for the film but really doesn’t make a great album.  The main theme has a slight Irish lilt and appears frequently through the score but even that is so full of restraint, you’d be hard pressed to remember a note of it after it finishes.  Explicit ethnic touches are few and far between – just a faint whiff of whistles from time to time.  There is more “action” music than is usual in a Loach film score, but this mostly consists of brass and percussion creating an awkward atmosphere rather than any particular sense of excitement (again, perfectly understandable and appropriate for the film).  There are a couple of particularly moving pieces – the brief “Chris Executed” has a harrowing air, but it’s stirring stuff; the profound sadness in “Training / Sick Child” is expressed through a beautiful piano solo, the low-end strings for once taking a back seat.  But this is a score that for almost its entire running time is the very model of restraint; and it’s a very difficult album to actually enjoy.  This release from Kronos Records comes six years after the film; an earlier planned release on Fenton’s own label Debonair was cancelled.

Rating: **

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