Recently there have been a number of television series that could be referred to as super-documentaries or natural history epics, BLUE PLANET for example, and WALKING WITH BEASTS or the new series PLANET EARTH on the BBC. WILD AFRICA was screened some time ago on BBC 2, why I do not know because it was compulsive and entertaining viewing it also contained one of the most superior TV scores that I have heard for many years, and in fact I would go as far as to say that it is the most enjoyable and rhythmically melodic soundtrack that I have listened to in a long time. It is the work of one of Britain’s most accomplished and gifted composers Christopher Gunning. Many collectors will of course already be aware of the multi-talented Mr Gunning through his early film scores such as Hammer films HANDS OF THE RIPPER and his entertaining and inventive music for Poirot plus his haunting soundtrack for the movie WHEN THE WHALES CAME, just three examples of this composers amazing works for cinema and TV.
WILD AFRICA is a mix of styles and sounds that consist of ethnic, choral and orchestral. Sweeping and majestic sounding themes accompany the sights and sounds of the African Savannah, whether it be the frequent season changes, or the running of a cheetah pursuing its prey, the composer has managed to make the film and the music work as one, punctuating and enhancing every frame of film with his musical full stops, exclamation marks and commas. Poignant almost celestial sounding tone poems accompany images of snow-capped mountains, enormous lakes and deserts that seem to extend into infinity. The composer also utilizes to great effect the human voice, and there are some outstanding performances within the score by both female and male soloists. The score for the series is as diverse and variegated as it is entertaining, and the range of styles within the work is astonishing and staggering. The opening theme is in itself a multicoloured affair that contains a haunting string composition that is played in unison with a flawless and beautiful female voice, this is in turn embellished and supported by African voices and drums, the infectious sounding theme is also performed in certain passages by the woodwind section, there is a lull of sorts towards the end of the theme, but this is short-lived, the composition building once again to continue along its way with choir supporting female voice and joining with strings to take the cue to its conclusion. The second cue is also written in the same sort of style, strings and choir again being employed to great effect with the added inclusion of subtle percussion and horns. I try not to draw comparisons with other composers or other scores but I must say that WILD AFRICA contains music that is comparable to the styles of both John Barry and Ennio Morricone, it has the richness of Barrys string’s and faraway lonely sounding horns, with the quality of Morricones choral colours. This however does not mean that the music by Christopher Gunning is not original, on the contrary it is a cleverly constructed and orchestrated work, that interweaves many textures and colours to create a soundtrack that will be pleasing to many collectors of film and TV music, and also to viewers of the series.
If I was to highlight one cue as being outstanding, it would have to be ‘Snowcaps on the Equator’, again the composer brings together choir and strings to achieve a sound that has to be heard to be believed. But to single out one track among so many wonderful musical cues would be somewhat unfair as the entire score for this series is outstandingly beautiful. Christopher Gunning’s soundtrack not only supports and enhances the images on screen, but it also has a life of its own away from those images and will, I am sure, be listened to and enjoyed buy many for years to come. The score is exciting, dramatic, poignant, exhilarating, romantic, captivating, emotional and, above all, mesmerizing. Highly recommended, even if you did not catch the series please buy the CD.