George Fenton / Simon Chamberlain
The Piano Framed
Shogun Music Ltd
British composer George Fenton has worked across all mediums – radio dramas and TV, documentary and feature narrative film, theatre, absolutely the works. And within that there are some longstanding collaborations and connections, with the BBC, for the films of Ken Loach and then some Hollywood blockbusters. I first came to know of his music from the Attenborough documentaries, in particular The Blue Planet which I adored as much for its music as its film content.
In the 20 years since discovering that I’ve found Fenton’s name behind the music to many films I’d already seen – some classic Hollywood comedies (Groundhog Day), some soppy romcoms (You’ve Got Mail), some noble failures (Eva After: A Cinderella Story). He’s one of the great jobbing film composers.
And here his work is celebrated by acclaimed pianist and regular Fenton collaborated Simon Chamberlain. This compilation “re-frames” Fenton’s film scores as solo piano pieces. So the results work – even if you have no previous familiarity with either the film or its music.
For instance, I couldn’t tell you I cared one bit about You’ve Got Mail, including even noticing its music – but as this album opens with that film’s theme I’m struck by what a classic, light, breezy piece of score-work it is. And here it feels – as with the following Accidental Hero – very similar to some of Randy Newman’s more recent film score work (I’m thinking in particular of his two Noah Baumbach collaborations, The Meyerowitz Stories and Marriage Story).
There are pieces I’ve never heard before from films I’ve not seen (yet) that have a calmness and clarity that feels perfect for 2020’s never-ending nerves-of-steel contemplation. The Lady in The Van’s theme for instance, or Dangerous Beauty’s opening piece.
And even the pieces I have heard in their original versions have been shaped to suit this new program – solo – so Shadowlands’ evocative theme is gorgeous here laid bare, and Planet Earth’s cue The Lucky Planet retains its hope and wonder but positively sparkles in this stripped-back arrangement.
For me Fenton’s very name on a project is now a mark of quality – the work will be done and it will be good. But stripped of the strings and occasional synths I’m happier hearing this music in this way. It’s gorgeous. It makes me very nearly weep. Some part of me is curled up in a ball while this music is playing. Happy. Held. Calm. Grateful.