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FOR THE RECORD: CRAIG ARMSTRONG
Interesting collection of Armstrong's finest
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
Craig Armstrong has been composing film music since the mid-1990s, with his breakthrough being the unusual British gangster film Plunkett and Macleane; it didn't take long after that for Hollywood to come calling, and he has split his time between scoring British movies and those for Hollywood, gathering valuable collaborations with directors Baz Luhrmann and Philip Noyce along the way. I've always found him to be a somewhat unusual film composer - sometimes he can be incredibly, frustratingly subtle; at others he is outlandishly melodramatic - there rarely seems to be an in-between.
Considering how few film scores he has written (less than 20 so far), it's a bit surprising that he has already had compilation albums and concerts devoted to his film scores (he is probably still just as well-known, if not moreso, for his solo music and record producing); in 2006 a selection of his scores was played at the Ghent International Film Festival, and it is that concert which inspired this album, the first of a planned series produced by the Festival and featuring the Flemish Radio Orchestra and Choir conducted by Dirk Brosse.
Many of the pieces have been substantially rearranged for this recording, and they are clearly very deliberately sequenced to produce a seamless flow over the course of the 80-minute album. This has been done cleverly - but I wonder if it hasn't been done just a little too cleverly - by redoing the music to give it all a very similar sound, pieces do rather blend into each other, and with one or two exceptions it would not be difficult to believe that actually this is just a long film score by itself, complete with some soaring highlights and some dull underscore.
The album begins with one of the more outlandish pieces, "O Verona" from Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet - and of course the same director's Moulin Rouge! inspired music just as extrovert, represented here by the lovely "Ascension" and, curiously, Armstrong's arrangement of "One Day I'll Fly Away". At the same end of the scale is Love Actually, whose saccharine-sweet "Glasgow Love Theme" is very pleasant, if you're in the mood for that sort of thing.
The slightly cloying World Trade Centre is represented by no fewer than four pieces - they probably work better here than on the soundtrack album, but it's still all a bit too obvious for my tastes. Perhaps the highlights come from more unexpected places - "New York City" from The Bone Collector has a bit of an edge to it, which is welcome (and it's probably the best piece here - and represents probably Armstrong's best score; and the main theme from the little-known Orphans is very fine.
I must admit, I still find it hard to warm to the much-praised The Quiet American; it's just too generic for the nuanced film, and fares no better on album. Likewise, some of the other, more melodramatic material can cross to the wrong side of the line between entertaining and irritating. However, on the whole this is a decent collection, which should have enough to please most people, especially fans of Armstrong's more conventional music. I think there are more interesting composers out there, and I wish a little more of this music had an edge, but listening to this is a pleasant way of spending an hour and twenty mintes, and I guess that's all that really matters.