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
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
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.