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Composed by
GEORGE FENTON

Rating
*****

Album running time
55:04

Performed by
THE BBC C
DNCERT ORCHESTRA
and
THE CHOIR OF MAGDELENE COLLEGE, OXFORD
Conducted by
GEORGE FENTON

Orchestrations
GEOFFREY ALEXANDER

Engineered by
STEVE PRICE
Produced by
GEORGE FENTON

Released by
BBC
Serial number
WMSF 6043-2

Artwork copyright (c) 2001 BBC Worldwide; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall

 

THE BLUE PLANET

Sensational television music

A review by JAMES SOUTHALL

After years of neglect, at last something wonderful has happened in the world of television music. Almost always seen as the poor cousin of film music - and not without reason - television music's congregation into one central generic sound happened years ago, with very few scores managing to distinguish themselves. Sometimes - usually when an established film composer enters the field - the results have been more impressive, but now - at last - television music has something it can shout about, two scores far outstripping virtually any heard in a theatrical feature this year.

It would take a special kind of programme to inspire such music, and a special kind of composer to write it, and fortunately that is exactly the combination that has happened in the case of The Blue Planet and its composer, George Fenton. (The other new tv score worthy of praise is Michael Kamen's Band of Brothers.) The BBC has always made outstanding natural history documentary series that manage to far outstrip anything found anywhere else on television, primarily by ensuring that show's are not patronising and concentrate instead on providing a fascinating insight into whatever subject matter is being discussed. Such s the case with The Blue Planet, a massive series charting life in the seas, and life associated with it. Some of the images have been unforgettable: a lengthy chase and attack by killer whales on a grey whale; penguins running and swimming for their lives to escape a seal; hundreds of thousands of mackerel gathering together in a tight ball to make eating them more difficult; mysterious (previously-undiscovered) creatures putting on an elaborate lightshow two miles underwater to attract their prey; and so on.

George Fenton's most famous collaboration with a director is that he has had with Richard Attenborough on films such as Gandhi, Cry Freedom and Shadowlands, but less-vaunted (until now) has been his collaboration with Attenborough's brother David. For decades, David Attenborough has been the face and voice of British natural history programmes, one of the most popular television presenters in the country. His encounter with a family of gorillas is still regarded by many as the pinnacle of world television history, as he was gradually accepted by them as one of their own. Fenton has scored several of his series, though usually budgetary constraints have restricted his contribution to being electronic; fortunately, with The Blue Planet Fenton was given the full forces of the BBC Concert Orchestra to play with.

And play he did. The main title theme (extended for album here) features the orchestra and a choir - it's a majestic, magnificent tribute to the world's oceans. What follows continues to delight and amaze. There is excitement; beauty; wonder; danger; delight; comedy. Fenton presents a series of cues that, placed together, form a tone poem to the oceans, with each piece being a highly-descriptive account of one particular facet of ocean life. The ethereal beauty of "Blue Whale" is surrounded on one side by the wonderment and excitement of "Sardine Run" and on the other with the gentle comedy of "Thimble Jelly Fish", complete with guitars. Every cue is a highlight, with "Baitball" and "Killer Whales" deserving of particular attention.

It is unheard of for music of this quality to be heard in a documentary series and, while the demands of a 10-hour series inevitably mean that the quality cannot be maintained throughout on-screen, nothing on this 55-minute album is short of sensational. This may well turn out to be the film music album of the year: unmissable.

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Tracks

  1. The Blue Planet (2:49)
  2. Sardine Run (3:29)
  3. Spinning Dolphins (2:38)
  4. Blue Whale (4:45)
  5. Thimble Jelly Fish (2:09)
  6. Surfing Snails (1:49)
  7. Emperors (4:19)
  8. Turtles (2:15)
  9. Sharks (3:43)
  10. Stingray (2:02)
  11. Baitball (4:26)
  12. The Deep Ocean (6:27)
  13. Elephant Seal March (2:36)
  14. Frozen Oceans (1:23)
  15. Coral Wonder (2:25)
  16. Killer Whales (7:49)