DEEP BLUE – George Fenton

Original Review by Alan Rogers

The BBC has a long tradition of producing quality natural history programming for television, which showcases various aspects of the planet’s flora and fauna. Composer George Fenton, over the years, has been called upon to score several of these major documentary series; for example, The Trials of Life, Life In The Freezer, etc. in 2001, Fenton accepted the challenging task of providing the underscore for the breathtaking visuals captured for The Blue Planet, a series of programmes highlighting the wonders of the deep. Three years later, the BBC took the best bits from The Blue Planet and spliced them together into a ninety-minute, documentary, entitled Deep Blue, that was given a theatrical release that showed off the spectacle and grandeur of the oceans on the big screen. For this, Fenton was given the opportunity to revisit his score for The Blue Planet, using this music as the basis for the re-edited images. The composer was also given the opportunity to record this new score with the world-famous Berlin Philharmonic.

For Deep Blue, Fenton has composed a series of set-pieces, musical vistas if you will, each one underscoring a particular aspect of everyday life in the oceans captured on film. This score highlights Fenton’s expert ability in capturing the unfolding drama – usually in the form or a predator-prey encounter – and it is this particular aspect of the score that stays with the listener well after the last bars of the music have finished. This dramatic scoring is perfectly heard in the opening cue, “Bounty Hunters”, with its wind flourishes and dramatic brass fanfares. Time and again, throughout the score, the composer is able to convey natural drama through his music (“Polar Landscape”, “Wolf Pack” & “Mounting Pressure”), using the string and brass sections of the Berlin Philharmonic to great effect. To balance out these breathtaking cues, Fenton provides a series of delicate – and frequently suspenseful cues – that underscore the more sedate sequences seem on film. Cues such as “Coral Riches”, “The Kelp Forest” and “The Wanderers” all convey a sense of serenity (with delicate strings and woodwinds being used to maximal effect), but at the same time there’s also an ever-present sense of forward motion. In these types of natural history documentary there are the more comedic sequences and Fenton has the opportunity to lighten the music in cues such as “Surf and Sand” and “Showtime”, where he uses a range of percussion, along with woodwinds and brass to evoke an almost calypso-style quality to the music (and which at one point – “Showtime” – spills over into a mariachi-style passage with some energetic brass.) Also, in the latter half of the CD, the presence of the Choir of Magadalen College, Oxford adds some depth to the whole proceedings.

After the excellent beginning to the score, another major highlight is “Flying Emperors.” In the space of four minutes, Fenton is able to capture what seems to be the whole life experience of the penguin; the almost-comedic gait of the penguins out of the water where they never seem quite at home, their transformation to “soaring” below the surface of the waves but their increased risk from predators such as seals once underwater.

George Fenton’s score for the earlier The Blue Planet, was recorded by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and, though dramatic, did contain a significant amount of non-orchestral, electronic scoring. Given the opportunity of a big screen production in the form of Deep Blue, Fenton reduces the contribution from the electronics, limiting their contribution to a more textural role (e.g., “Metamorphosis”) and at the same time beefing up the orchestral tone of the music. The only downside to this score is that, since each cue underscores a series of set-pieces, there’s a bit of a “stop-start” feel to the score as a whole; there’s little cohesion or continuity running through it. This is only a very minor gripe since the majority of the individual cues are, in themselves, very worthwhile listens. So, who should buy Deep Blue – if you haven’t already? For those who already have The Blue Planet you may not wish pay for more of the same in terms of thematic material. However, there’s a bigger orchestral feel to Deep Blue compared to The Blue Planet and this may provide an interesting alternative take on Fenton’s music for The Blue Planet. And for those who have not yet had the opportunity to sample this recent Fenton effort in any form? I’d recommend Deep Blue as the more satisfying listen. You won’t be disappointed.

Rating: ****

Track listing:

  1. Bounty Hunters (3:35)
  2. Airwaves (2:20)
  3. The Beach In Patagonia (5:07)
  4. Metamorphosis (1:52)
  5. Surf and Sand (2:02)
  6. Coral Riches (4:13)
  7. Free To Roam (1:16)
  8. The Kelp Forest (3:12)
  9. Kaleidoscope (3:57)
  10. Polar Landscape (3:14)
  11. Flying Emperors (3:29)
  12. Wolf Pack (5:01)
  13. The Wanderers (3:36)
  14. Showtime (2:15)
  15. Mounting Pressure (6:36)
  16. The Spinning Baitball (3:36)
  17. Deep Blue (5:45)

Running Time: 61:06

Sony Classical / Sony Music Soundtrax (2004)

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