In the liner notes, director Kenneth Branagh confesses that this is not one of the Bard's most well known plays, indeed my knowledge of it is limited to recognising the title, which is perhaps pretty poor show. Then again it was apparently unperformed for 200 years after Shakespeare's death so even the most hardened Thesps might not be that familiar with it. After the intense and lengthy drama of Hamlet, this is a much more sprightly offering full of comedy, romance, farce, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. OK, so Shakespeare didn't put in the last two, but Branagh clearly felt that their words and music (along with several other songsmiths of that era - George Gerswhin, Jerome Kern and others) would fit well around the text of the play. Not having seen the film I can't comment on the effectiveness, but given how much I've enjoyed all of Branagh's films I'm greatly looking forward to seeing how it all fits together.
Of course a Kenneth Branagh film would not be replete without Patrick Doyle and while Doyle's job was certainly different and perhaps a little more tricky this time around he has certainly worked the disperate parts into an enjoyable whole. Doyle's underscore proper constitutes around half of the album's running time and anyone who enjoyed Much Ado About Nothing will find plenty to keep them happy. The opening Love's Labour's Lost is a somewhat brief, but rousing overture. The more exuberent moments otherwise are mainly confined to the songs and so Doyle's job is to keep the momentum going during the quieter moments and he puts his romantic main themes to good use, most notably in the lengthy Twelve Months and a Day. The final three tracks bring the score to a triumphant and upbeat finale. Cinetone News featuring some difficult trumpet bursts (that unfortunately cause a couple of fluffed notes) is Doyle's version of those Pathe news reports when news was brought to the masses in cinemas before the film was shown. Victory brings proceedings to a very rousing, celebratory and satisfying conclusion.
Anyone familiar with music hall songs of the 30's and 40's will of course know all the titles featured, although I must admit that I only recognised about half of them. There is a pleasing mixture of rousing production numbers, Let's Face the Music and There's No Business Like Showbusiness perhaps being the best and given splendid arrangements by Doyle and his team of orchestrators (Lawrence Ashemore, John Bell, Brian Gascoigne, Carl Johnson and James Shearman worked variously on the songs and Ashmore, Shearman along with Rick Wentworth worked on Doyle's underscore). The more romantic numbers are generally enjoyable, although Timothy Spall's curious accent on I Get A Kick Out of You was perhaps unwise. Doyle has written some introductory passages for some of the songs to provide smoother transitions to his own music, which was certainly a wise move.
Doyle's score is good enough and lengthy enough to make the album worth picking up, although it doesn't quite hit the soaring heights of his marvellous effort on Much Ado. However, if you felt that Est-Ouest was perhaps a little too sombre, this makes for a refreshing change of pace and is hugely enjoyable. I would still suggest listening to the songs since the whole thing works together much better than might be expected; the arrangements are excellent and by and large the performances are good. The voices are perhaps mixed a little low though, which does mean they tend to be a little obscured when the brass pipe up. Whether this was to disguise imperfections in the singing or not I don't really know (there is nothing that stands out as being that badly sung by any means), however it is a bit irrtating when attempting to hear the lyrics. Overall an enjoyable, albeit slightly unusual mixture, but one that does work and makes for highly entertaining listening.