This is the kind of film I'll probably never end up watching even if it is rated highly by critics. It appears to be some kind of slightly high brow, arty doomed romance starring Ralph Fiennes in the type of film he performs best (especially after the dead end that was The Avengers). By some coincidence, Fiennes seems to end up in films with above average scores, even The Avengers had a lively, retro effort by Joel McNeely and something in a similar vein like Oscar and Lucinda featured a wonderful effort by the extremely talented Thomas Newman.
I've never really thought that Michael Nyman could effectively do romantic music. What he composed for The Piano was effective and telling, but was somewhat mechanical in nature and the music to Carrington was fairly baroque and somehow mathematical. Of course, his composition speciality of minimalism almost certainly creates problems with romance; for me, romantic music needs long lines and the ability to draw out the drama by playing around with tempo as well as harmony. The kind of fragments that create the music that Nyman traditionally writes don't lend themselves well to that style of writing. To this end, it seems that Nyman has abandoned some of the more clinical elements in his composition to write a lush and moodily romantic effort. While there are sections of repeating motifs, other moments completely detatch away from this approach into what might be considered more 'normal' film music.
The Nyman Orchestra seems to be reduced to more of a chamber orchestra with a heavy reliance on strings, with only the occasional appearence of brass and woodwind. This result is sort of a romantic Psycho at times, with the quietly pulsing violin figures underpinned with a longer cello bass line. The effect is hypnotic and at time intense, although like Herrmann's effort, perhaps at times a little too intense. The insistant rhythms can start to pall at times, their tone and orchestration often not varying quite as much as would be desirable. The reduced ensemble size means there is somewhat less room for a large pallette of orchestral colour. Compare this with the myriad of instruments Philip Glass used in his superb score to Kundun and Nyman's effort seems less than inspired on occasion (although to be fair, the Oriental setting of Kundun did leave more scope than a talky romance picture). That having been said, there are enough breaks in style to prevent it ever sounding too samey or monotonous, including a couple of charming piano solos, most notably in Love Doesn't End..
All that having been said, the album is still an extremely enjoyable one and one that creates more than the average amount of drama and intensity than is found in similar modern scores. Those who prefer their film music less epic in stature and more intense and personal will find much to cherish. Don't let the moniker of a Nyman as a minimalist composer put you off, he seems to write in a more traditionally thematic style these days, when compared to say the clockwork compositions used in much of The Piano. An unexpected delight that highlights Nyman's ability for music that is purely written in a dramatic context and not based form and structure.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad