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Far From the Madding Crowd (Craig Armstrong)

April 25, 2015

Cover_FarFromMaddingCrowdFAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD

Craig Armstrong, 2015, Sony
25 tracks, 63:41

Does the Pope live in Rome? Do bears… err… you know in the woods? Can Craig Armstrong write a gorgeous score for a romantic period drama?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg “Far From the Madding Crowd” is based on the novel by Thomas Hardy, first published in 1874. It tells the story of Bathsheba Everdene, a proud young woman, who catches the eye of sheep herder Gabriel. They become good friends, but when Gabriel asks her to marry him, she rejects him and moves to another village. Gabriel falls on hard times when he loses his flock. Through luck and hardship he crosses paths with Bathsheba again. She’s gained a few more followers… but will she eventually fall for Gabriel?

What does it sound like?

We know what beauty Craig Armstrong is capable off. In some ways “Far From the Madding Crows” delivers exactly what you might expect, yet in other ways it’s quite surprising. We know that Armstrong’s particularly gifted with the piano and with strings, yet this score sounds much more classical than anything I’ve heard from him before (and I think I’ve heard nearly everything that’s commercially available).

“Opening” opens with a virtuous violin solo, immediately evoking memories of James Newton Howard’s “The Village”. The full string section and piano join as the score’s main theme takes form. There’s a wonderful pastorale sound here, especially when the flute takes the lead, akin to Danny Elfman’s “Sommersby” and “Black Beauty”. And whilst I’m making comparisons, I may just add that elsewhere the score is reminiscent of Dario Marianelli. If I was reading this review (instead of writing it), I’d be heading over to iTunes right now without needing another word.

Armstrong’s themes are lush, but uncomplicated; probably conveying a no-frills lifestyle. There are plenty of simply outrageously beautiful cues here. “Corn Exchange”, “Spring Sheep Dip”, “Oak Returns” (which is the first cue that really sounds like the Armstrong we know), “Boldwood Variation” (another quintessential Armstrong piece and as close to “Love Actually” as this score is gonna get), “Times Moves On” (oh… you can just feel the emotions by reading the track title alone), “Oak Swims Out” (which ever so slightly reminds me of “Dust” from Armstrong’s album “It’s Nearly Tomorrow”) and of course “Oak Leaves” and “Bathsheba and Oak Unite”.

Despite the passion and the heart ache, the score remains restraint – or perhaps I should say that the restraint actually enhances that passion and those aches. It’s only during the closing track “Far From the Madding Crowd Love Theme” (which may well be a separate concert arrangement) that Armstrong removes the shackles and allows the music to be unashamedly euphoric.

It’s an album full of highlights. It’s Armstrong doing what he does best, and still he manages to somewhat re-invent himself. But… it is heavy on the strings and especially the solo violin, so your appreciation of the score will depend greatly on your appreciation for that sound. Scattered throughout the score are various hymns and folk songs (polkas with accordions and tubas). They enhance the period feel and help break up the score a little. With Armstrong’s music being so string-heavy it’s probably not a bad thing to break it up a little.

Is it any good?

As a fan of Craig Armstrong I could not have hope for much more. “Far From the Madding Crowd” is a wonderful score with lyrical themes and pastorale orchestrations. It’s almost relentless in its beauty and use of strings. I suppose that’s the relative ‘downside’ to Armstrong – he’s so well versed in writing and arranging for strings, that he tends to rely on them an awful lot. Luckily the score is broken up a little bit with hymns and folks songs; though I’m personally not a big fan of those. That said… “Far From the Madding Crowd” is lush, romantic, dramatic, virtuous; and yet it’s suitably restraint, making you feel the heart aches. One of Armstrong’s finest scores to date, and one of this year’s best so far.

Rating [4.5/5]

Tracklisting

01. Opening (4.39)
02. Jerusalem the Golden – The Dorset Singers / Yeovil Chamber Choir (1.55)
03. Corn Exchange (1.26)
04. The Great Misunderstanding (2.24)
05. Spring Sheep Dip (2.18)
06. Oak Returns (2.17)
07. Let No Man Steal Your Thyme – Carey Mulligan / Michael Sheen (2.05)
08. Never Been Kissed (3.01)
09. Hollow in the Ferns (3.38)
10. Bathsheba and Troy Wedding (3.05)
11. Dribbles of Brandy – The Eliza Carthy Band / Saul Rose (1.10)
12. Swiss Boy – The Eliza Carthy Band / Saul Rose (1.50)
13. Fanny and Troy (4.04)
14. Troy Swims Out (1.16)
15. O Come, O come, Emmanuel – The Dorset Singers / Yeovil Chamber Choir (2.47)
16. Boldwood Variation (2.31)
17. Michael Turner’s Waltz – The Eliza Carthy Band (1.47)
18. Jenny Lind Polka – The Eliza Carthy Band / Saul Rose (1.51)
19. Time Moves On (1.08)
20. Oak Leaves (1.10)
21. Bathsheba and Oak Unite (1.35)
22. End Credits (2.08)
23. Let No Man Steal Your Thyme – Carey Mulligan (unavailable for review)
24. Far from the Madding Crowd Love Theme (3.42)

 

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