Skip to content

Summer in February (Benjamin Wallfisch)

June 30, 2013

cover_summer-in-februarySUMMER IN FEBRUARY

Benjamin Wallfisch, 2013, Decca
19 tracks, 50:27

After a thunderous score for “Conquest 1453” and a rather difficult, largely electronic one for “Hammer of the Gods”, Benjamin Wallfisch might not seem the obvious choice of composer for this romantic drama set on the British coast just before WW-I. Yet he delivers romance and nostalgia in abundance. Considering he worked as Dario Marianelli’s orchestrator, maybe it’s not such a big surprise after all.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Set in Cornwall just before the first World War, “Summer in February” tells the story of painter A.J. Munnings (Dominic Cooper), a rather obnoxious fellow by all accounts. When Florence (a young girl from London, played by Emily Browning) arrives, he offers her lessons. They fall in love and plan to wed, but Florence is also falling for the charms of another man… The film opened to mixed reviews, praising its picturesque settings and cinematography but damning its dull story. Hoping to infuse some passion to the proceedings is composer Benjamin Wallfisch (“Hammer of the Gods, “Conquest 1453”), who delivers exactly what one would expect from a film like this.

What does it sound like?

The only criticism this score deserves, and let’s just get it out of the way early, is that it sounds very familiar. Having worked as an orchestrator for Dario Marianelli, it should come as no surprise that it bears some resemblance to scores like “Pride & Prejudice”; but you’ll also find hints of “Legends of the Fall” and “The Red Violin”. Considering the rolling landscapes, the historical setting and the unfolding romance(s) that “Summer in February” puts on display, such resemblances are to be expected. What the score may lack in originality, it makes up for (in abundance) in beautiful writing and orchestrating. It is all utterly pleasant and harmless; like a little Retriever puppy that just brought you the Sunday Mail,wagging its tail excitedly and looking for your approval with its big brown eyes. How can you not love it?

The album opens with the strings-and-piano heavy “Lamorma”, the name of a group of painters that Munnings belonged to. A long-lined lyrical melody is carried from one instrument to the next; parts of it sounding much like Horner. It all evolves as one would expect, never taking a wrong or unexpected turn. Perfect for tea and scones in the afternoon sun. “Mirror” continues with a more melancholy tone sprouting a little theme on the harp that reminds me of Corigliano’s “The Red Violin”, especially when (later in the score) it is performed on violin in “Florence’s Theme”, the title thusly revealing to whom this theme applies. “The Races” is arguably the liveliest cue on the album, reprising the Lamorma theme supported by staccato strings and a virtuous piano performance by Yuja Wang.

Throughout the album Wallfisch alternates between melancholy and romance, all in a beautiful pastoral setting dominated by strings, some woodwind and Wang’s piano performances. Most tracks come and go pleasantly enough, but without making a lasting impression. “Gilbert’s Theme” starts with an echoing piano motif that instantly recalls some of Horner’s works, before moving on to a lush theme from strings.  Gilbert being ‘the other man’, his theme is considerably more outgoing (though still restraint) than Florence’s melancholy tune. “Wedding” incorporates a beautiful female vocal line, evoking hazy slow-motion images. However, the deep basses lend an uneasy atmosphere to the cue. “Cyanide” reprises Florence’s theme on violin and intensifies quite dramatically before offering a solemn resolution. At 5-minutes long “Final Kiss” is a beautiful restraint romantic cue that, certainly during the second half, owes much to Marianelli. “The Storm” is as dramatic as it sounds, providing a whirlwind variation on Florence’s theme with thick layers of strings and surging piano lines.

“Gilbert Returns” offers a grand statement of the character’s theme, showcasing some excellent writing for the string section. “Siren’s Lullaby” repeats the vocal performance we heard earlier in “Wedding”, still underlined with those ominous bass lines. This traditional-sounding theme is developed further in the string section, before returning to the vocal – by now it sounds more relaxed, easily becoming one the score’s highlights. The album concludes with “Epilogue: Morning Ride”, providing a wonderful combination of the Lamorma theme, backed by lush string writing and Wang’s surging piano performances.

Is it any good?

The familiarity of this style and these themes aside, it is impossible not to enjoy this score. We’ll never know whether the aforementioned resemblances are purely coincidental or to some degree deliberate. Considering Wallfisch previous collaborations with Marianelli, I would expect at least some similarities are deliberate. It matters little, really. More cynical listeners might claim the score to be a little too manipulative and derivative; but not me. The lush themes, colourful orchestrations (for full orchestra, though virtually no brass; and no synths) and Wang’s virtuous piano play make this a beautiful and rewarding listening experience that one could easily and happily return to many a time; which is reflected in my rating below. Having already proven his worth in other, more visceral genres, I suspect Wallfisch  is one up-and-coming composer to keep a very close eye on.

Rating [4/5]

Tracklisting

1. Lamorma (3:06)
2. Mirror (2:18)
3. The Races (1:34)
4. Painting (4:51)
5. Proposal (1:30)
6. Gilbert’s Theme (1:27)
7. Florence’s Theme (2:36)
8. AJ’s Request (1:06)
9. Unaccountable (2:14)
10. Wedding (1:19)
11. Cyanide (3:20)
12. Florence’s Hut (1:56)
13. Art And Life (2:18)
14. Final Kiss (4:59)
15. The Storm (3:15)
16. Aftermath (1:56)
17. Gilbert Returns (3:49)
18. Siren’s Lullaby (2:50)
19. Epilogue: Morning Ride (4:03)

Album credits

Album credits on allmusic.com

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: