The fairest way to review a soundtrack release is in conjunction with the actual film – the better to assess how the score works for the film, and how well it holds up as a listening experience as an album; but that's not always possible for a number of reasons (a film's availability, and time being the main reasons).
What's startling is when an album so tightly evokes the various relationships, emotions, and directions of a film's characters, and while good sequencing can shape a score's direction as a listening experience on album, it's the music's post-film resonance that stands out in this short but endearing portrait of what begins as a older widow's friendship with a younger man.
Although Stephen Barton has worked extensively with Hans Zimmer and Harry-Gregson Williams on diverse projects, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is another of Barton's rare efforts as solo composer, and though he's often been credited under the ‘additional music' banner, with Mrs. Palfrey , he reveals his distinctive skill in bringing out subtle nuances and character subtext through very elegant instrumentation.
Melodically, Mrs. Palfrey echoes the overt emotional reflections found in James Newton Howard's early work, but they're more fragmentary here, as Barton has assembled a small orchestra to perform his half-hour score, and he uses talented soloists to shape the story's drama into lovely bits of connective material that frequently shifts from sadness to curiosity, and joy to cheekiness.
“Mrs. Post” is a good example of Barton's elegant writing: the cue wiggles between wistful woodwind quotations, bass triplets with a slightly humorous slant, and subtle strings playing high registers to convey more serious character deliberations. The effect is a clear map of a conversation and of characters discreetly observing each other, and while the humour may be quite up-front, it isn't forceful or strained.
“At the Park” signals another mood shift within the score, as the tone is dark and foreboding, while “Je ne sais quoi…” conveys a delightful blend of quirkiness, hesitation, and anticipation by exchanging short melodic parts between woodwinds, piano, and violins. “The Date with Mr. Osborne” is just as clever, and the repeated phrases between high and low woodwinds are somewhat advanced by a reserved, 6-beat dance rhythm, which shifts to a chamber waltz in the middle third. The orchestrations are razor sharp in their clarity, and the dance motifs oddly recall a bit of Neal Hefti's cheeky writing, transposed here to a more classical and polite orchestral environment.
A bit too sentimental in spots, but a score clearly crafted with affection, and great care for the film's characters.
This album is available directly from MovieScore Media's online shop in 320 kbit mp3 format.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan