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GOLDEN BOWL, THE: SOUNDTRACK

Review by Brad Green:
There is formula and then there is formula. You know what you’re going to get with Teen Romp Part Four, and you know what you’re going to get with the latest Merchant/Ivory production. What you might not know is that it is not just a duo, but a stable quartet that brings us these lush, period pieces.

Director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant inevitably team with screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and soundtrack composer Richard Robbins for their literary adaptations. And the team rely on a formula only at the most superficial level. When you mine great literature, and you do it with taste, there are infinite subtleties.

There are, however, some things we can count on: lashings of lavish decor, suffocating social mores and svelte young heroines dressed in crinoline, décolletage and affected manners. We can also be sure that Robbins’s score will play an intricate role in creating the period atmosphere, the contrasts of morality and decadence and the psychological tensions. And milieu and morality and psychology are everything in these productions.

Here, the Opening Credits cue is all understated strings, restrained and refined. Until half way through. Suddenly they’re pulsing and swirling with suspense and drama. What is superb about Robbins’s phrases is that they don’t evoke the perils of an action thriller, but somehow in their abstract way, the psychological complexities, politics and insights of these narratives – in this case Henry James; though Robbins has done it just as well with Forster and Ishiguro.

There are often quietly oscillating, pulsating ostinatos underpinning Robbins’s scores, like the pathos and emotion that lurk beneath the opulence: the tacit tensions of influence and affluence; the consequences of New World Innocence striding boldly into European sensibilities.

But it’s not all poignancy and thick ambience. The aristocrats must have their balls, and the less privileged classes their spiritual escapes. Some of the score’s lighter moments are also its most delightful: the duple-time ebullience of Lady Gwendolyn’s Galop (that’s one "L" mind; she’s not a horse!) reminiscent of music halls and vaudeville on either side of the Atlantic, and particularly of The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo. And again in the End Credits there is the lighter side of the crossing from the Victorian to the Edwardian age, and the crossing of Americans to the Old World, for there is more than a hint of ragtime here.

My favourite Robbins soundtracks remain A Room With a View and The Remains Of The Day, but this one is almost as sublime and it will no doubt appeal to three distinct demographics: those like me who are addicted to finely wrought period adaptations, those living in mansions who need the perfect grand dinner party music, and those living in penury who can stick this CD in a ghetto blaster, lie back and discover chandeliers growing miraculously from the ceiling.

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REVIEWS

TITLE: The Golden Bowl

ID: 74321 78472-2
Merchant Ivory/Editions Milan Music

COMPOSER: Richard Robbins

ARRANGER: Geoffrey Alexander

CONDUCTOR: Harry Rabonowitz

FEATURED PERFORMERS: Simon Chamberlaine (piano); Phill Todd (saxophone); Phillip De Groote (Cello)







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