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Despite winning an Australian Screen Music Award for his Moby Dick soundtrack, it would not be unfair to say that Christopher Gordon is a relatively unknown composer. It would be a travesty, however, if things remain that way for long.

If this score had been for a theatrical release it would be my unequivocal Oscar pick. I’m not exaggerating. No recent offering from Hollywood luminaries Horner, Williams and Co. matches its scope, detail or sheer emotive impact.

Unlike many film music writers, Gordon conducts, orchestrates and produces his compositions without assistance – and it shows. There is a structure and intricacy to the music that is clearly the work of a single, inspired vision.

In following On The Beach’s narrative development, he divides his score into six sections; each with its own themes, tonal features and emotional flavour. While the first comprises only one cue (the apocalyptic prelude to the drama), the other five could easily be developed into full-length soundtracks of their own.

Gordon writes gorgeously melodic motifs, but he never reiterates them carelessly. Where they pop up in more than one section, they appear subtly as part of an invisible thread that sews the detailed orchestrations into a seamless whole.

The most striking themes are introduced in A New Day, which provides a gentle, wry optimism that contrasts with the grimness to come; and Moira And Towers Meet, which commences the title section that is the score’s romantic heart. A lyrical string motif segues to a jaunty, folk-influenced romp that is replete with exhilarating, interlacing orchestration.

It is a highlight on a soundtrack of many highlights. There are eloquent solo passages for violin, viola, cello and horn; a haunting child soprano; militaristic brass and drums; sparkling harp and piano; a dazzling Broadway-style orchestral-jazz indulgence; and sombre, elegiac orchestrations – sometimes with chorus – that swell and fade as the desolation closes in. It is intelligent and beautiful music, echoing every nuance and paradox of human spirit in the face of oblivion.

The movie closes with an excerpt of moving verse from American poet Walt Whitman. Considering the rare poetry of the soundtrack, it seems supremely fitting that this was Gordon’s idea.
Brad Green

Publication date: October 26, 2000

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A New Day - Christopher Gordon
Moira and Towers Meet - Christopher Gordon
The Great Ocean Road - Christopher Gordon

TITLE: On The Beach

ID: 302 066 153 2
Varese Sarabande/Southern Star

COMPOSER/CONDUCTOR: Christopher Gordon

ORCHESTRATIONS: Christopher Gordon

PRODUCER: Christopher Gordon

FEATURED PERFORMERS: Philip Hartl (orchestra leader/violin), David Periera (violincello), Anne Louise Comerford (viola), Geoff Collinson (horn), Paul Goodchild (trumpet), Marshall McGuire (harp), Josephine Allan (piano), Eliena Baroni (child soprano), Sydney Philharmonic Choir – musical director: Mats Nilsson


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