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Decent music... but you can't help comparing...
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * *
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Shine Limited; review copyright (c) 2009 James Southall.
*Please note that I couldn't find a photograph of Rob Lane, so instead the image above (where the composer is usually shown) is actually of the chat show host Michael Parkinson.
One might have thought that there had been enough adaptations of the Arthurian legend by now, but evidently the BBC didn't agree; and indeed they were proven to be correct, with Merlin turning out to be a big ratings success over here in the green and pleasant land. The young man playing the main character didn't seem much good, but it did star both Victor Meldrew and the bloke from the Gold Blend adverts. Musically, the show was fortunate enough to have the services of prolific British composer Rob Lane, who recently won acclaim for his wonderful contribution to HBO's John Adams.
This soundtrack album features music from the first three episodes. The first cue ("Merlin's Arrival at Camelot") is easily the best, featuring a real sense of (wait for it!) magic, particularly from the ethereal chorus. "The Tournament Begins" presents some action music, which is done well. At times in the score it gets a bit too Hans Zimmer-ish (in a British tv drama? - is the world coming to an end?) and there are unfortunately several occasions where the synths become a little too heavy (I presume that this can only have been for budgetary reasons, though the music team did take the trouble of going to Prague and recording with the Czech Philharmonic).
Whether it's a case of the temp track seeping through or is just one of those coincidences, I don't know, but if you can listen to "Meeting Arthur" and not be reminded of Return of the Jedi's "Parade of the Ewoks" then you're a better man than I. A great piece of action music follows it though - "Fighting in the Market" is brief, but long enough to leave in impression, and "Arthur and the Knight Valiant" adds choir to the equation. The trouble is, it all sounds a bit thin - regardless of the unfortunate situation with the synths, it sounds like either the orchestra's very small, or the orchestration a little limp.
For the most part though, the music is pretty decent. The album meanders around a bit in the second half, but the good bits are very good. Its problem is that it's just not very spectacular, particularly by the standards of past film music composed for this legend (Messrs Rozsa and Goldsmith didn't do too badly out of it, that's for sure). If you want your music for Arthur and Merlin to stand out from the crowd, there really needs to be something pretty distinguished about it, and to be honest there isn't. It's decent enough - and unusually expansive for tv music - and Lane is a fine composer, so I do recommend it - just with a little caution.