Film, television, and video game music composer Daniel Pemberton got his start in avant-garde and ambient electronic music, influenced as a teenager by statuesque electronic artists such as Jean Michel Jarre, Tomita, and Vangelis. Pemberton began collecting keyboard gear from an early age and wrote a tips column for a video game magazine to earn enough money for increasingly high-end equipment. He also began recording his own compositions, and passed a tape on to Mixmaster Morris at one of his gigs. When word (as well as additional tapes) continued to spread, Pemberton recorded his debut album, Bedroom, which gained release in late 1994 for Pete Namlook's highly collectible Fax Records.
The film takes place in 1921 England and is a ghost story where the storytelling and visuals is beautifully underlined by a large, gothic orchestral score composed by Daniel Pemberton, who won the 2010 Ivor Novello Award for Best Television Soundtrack (Desperate Romantics). Dark orchestral sonorities, haunting vocals and elements of almost operatic choir writing form the backbone of the this thorouoghly elegant and engaging score. Particularly memorable is "The Awakening Theme" which is used throughout the score, an instantly memorable arpeggio motif that has the same effective 'hook' as many of the most famous horror scores in the history of film music.
There’s nothing disastrous about Daniel Pemberton’s fine score. Pemberton’s star has been on the rise for a few years now and it was 2015 that turned out to be his real breakthrough year, with his very impressive (and very different) scores for The Man from UNCLE and Steve Jobs. There’s a bit of the effortless cool of the former heard in Gold but by and large this is another very different affair, a fun action/adventure score that stays refreshingly free of the turgid sounds that tend to dog these things these days.
The Russian composer Elena Langer, now resident in Britain, draws on influences from her native country (Shostakovich, especially in the chamber orchestration of these songs), from Britain (from Britten to Thomas Adès), and from continental Europe. As a song composer she is able to convey lightness even when dealing with serious material such as the title song cycle setting poems by Lee Harwood (most of the songs on the album are in English). These songs subtly depict love triangles, some of them with both straight and gay elements. Even better are the genuinely playful pieces.
Kiri Te Kanawa does well by these songs, avoiding the billowing excesses of sentiment that in other hands (or vocal chords) can make them sound much too soggy. Although Berlioz gathered them all together under the present title, all of the songs were composed at different times for different singers, so they aren't really a cycle at all. I seldom listen to all of them at once, and you should feel free to take them in any order that suits you. "The Death of Cleopatra" is an early cantata that perfectly suits Jessye Norman's stately delivery. She's always at her best playing royalty, and if they're dying in mortal agony, so much the better.
Liszt’s Dante Symphony is a work of astonishing imagination. His evocation of the ‘Inferno’, the shade of Francesca da Rimini and her sad remembered love is marked by strokes of genius which, with bewildering frequency, pre-empt the mature Wagner (who was, incidentally, the dedicatee of the work). If the second and third movements – the ‘Paradiso’ was wisely commuted to a setting of part of the Magnificat plus a brief Hosanna – don’t quite match the sweep and control of the first, they have their own particular magic. Even so, the work has not acquired the popularity of the Faust Symphony. Barenboim’s new recording with the Berlin Philharmonic is thus particularly welcome. Not only does it augment the number of available recordings to four, it is also the most polished. Even performing ‘live’, the Berlin Philharmonic turns in a performance of near-perfection – the solo lines are a particular joy.