An exquisitely engineered score, Christian Henson’s music for The Secret of Moonacre is a stellar fantasy work that combines whimsy, lyricism and drama in one exciting package, but there’s also a great amount of tenderness between some of the score’s more rambunctious cues.
Much like Andrew Lockington’s Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008), Henson’s approach recalls the grand fantasy music of the eighties (notably Bruce Broughton’s underrated output), where a strong theme is a score’s cornerstone. Henson’s writing is memorable for the lightness he creates with woodwinds and peripheral effects that collectively drift away from a hard time signature, as well as a buoyancy in “Marmaduke Scarlet,” with its disjointed pacing and use of woodwinds, tuba, and broken glass
The shortness of “Maria’s Room” is offset by a lovely weaving of feathery tones and soothing harmonics. Henson employs just a few instruments, but the orchestrations ensure the gentle sharing of thematic strands glides from flutes to strings to piano, with very subtle use of wordless female voices. Equally important are the pairings of singular instruments, like flute and cello, with the string vibrato adding extra warmth to the theme fragment. (Flutes also figure in Henson’s short little nod to Delibes in “Milk and Cookies.”)
Henson also crafts some rich colours through unconventional effects. “Into the Forest” begins with a fast action pace that’s propelled by a frenzied sawing sound, and the brief layering of staccato jazz notes electric bass. The cue’s pulsing tempo is derived from a really neat theme consisting of five haunting notes followed by a seven note mystical variation, and functions as a secondary mystical motif that sometimes tethers cues together, and evolves into grander variations with voices and heavy celli.
“Opening Titles” also feature a clever mimicking of electronic keyboards using metal vibes and flutes, and in “Maria is Captured,” menace and fear stems from elongated bowed notes on bass, and Goldenthalian brass whose thick tremors are captured by very close mic placement. The same attention to sparse instruments occurs in “Little White Horse Leads On / Chase Through the Forest,” where danger stems from deeply resonant bass clarinet that undulates like fat analogue feedback.
Few cues are straightforward theme statements or outright action, but this is one of the most enjoyable fantasy albums in ages, and one of the best scores released so far in 2009.
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan