George Fenton has had a varied and illustrious career, scoring many big movies including GHANDI and CRY FREEDOM, plus he has also worked on numerous popular TV series and programmes. Fenton was the favoured choice of film maker Sir Richard Attenborough and worked with director Neil Jordan on movies such as COMPANY OF WOLVES. One of his early themes was for the quiz show Blockbusters, and it was small themes such as this that began to get the composer noticed. He also worked with Sir David Attenborough on various wildlife series mostly for the BBC as well as scoring Hollywood box office hits such as GROUNDHOG DAY and YOU GOT MAIL. For me personally it is his vibrant and energetic score for HIGH SPIRITS that always comes to mind when his name is mentioned, I think it is his music rather than the actual movie that evokes my memories of this. Over the past few years Fenton has shall we say not been as busy as he used to be, and only occasionally would we see his name on the credits of a movie. So I am pleased that in recent months we have seen two of his scores released, the most recent being RED JOAN, the music for this thriller which stars Judy Dench in the title role, is I think quite typical of Fenton’s style there are some beautifully crafted themes present within the work, and also a handful of darker and more apprehensive sounding pieces, but it is the lilting and subtle thematic material that holds the attraction and seems to entice and beckon to the listener. The PRELUDE opens the recording in which the composer serves up a brief but effective piano theme which is supported by underlying and very slight strings, as I say it is a fleeting opener for the score but one that sets the scene perfectly for what is to follow.
The theme which we hear in the opening cue is one that is expanded upon and returned to throughout the soundtrack and Fenton presents it in varying ways, arranging and orchestrating it differently on each occasion, giving it a freshness and added vibrancy. Although RED JOAN is a somewhat downbeat or even at times sombre affair musically, the music remains thematic and melodious the composer utilising sentimental sounding woods which at certain points within the score do seem to transform into a more sinister and shady sounding performance but retaining the melody that they originally purveyed. The same can be said of piano and strings which transform from light and unassuming instruments into dark and foreboding ones. I must admit I do love scores such as this, it’s not grandiose and certainly not high octane in any way, but instead is subdued and intricate, even fragile and slight in its composition and overall performance, there is a certain air of intimacy and reflective quality to the work. Fenton elaborating upon the central theme a few times by way of a lusher but still slight string performance which adds substance and emotion to the proceedings, the composer creating a luxurious sound that although not overly over the top is still powerful and affecting. He also utilises a heartrending solo violin at times and again although fleeting this creates a sense of passion, melancholy and isolation all at the same time. Fenton gives depth, atmosphere and colour to the movie with his beguiling and haunting music and it is a soundtrack that will be welcomed by any film music connoisseur. Released by Movie Score Media and available now as digital recording and soon on CD from Quartet records.