TALL SHIPS: THE PRIVATEER LYNX – David James Nielsen


Original Review by Alan Rogers (First uploaded at maintitles.net)

Tall Ships: The Privateer Lynx is the first in a series of documentaries dedicated to some of America’s greatest sailing ships. This documentary follows the experiences of a group of individuals on – what is essentially – a floating museum, learning about American history through active sailing training aboard a real wooden ship of historical significance. The ship is an 1812 privateer ship named Lynx, built originally by a young American to “defend American freedom by evading the British naval fleet blockading American ports.” Built in 2001, The Privateer Lynx is an interpretation of that historic ship.

Documentary director Robert Margouleff turned to composer David James Nielsen to provide him with a score that would be “memorable, noble and majestic” and Nielsen’s score begins with a noble statement (in the brass) of a main theme that does evoke the open sea: a theme that rises and falls as though reflecting the ebb and flow of the sea itself. The theme reappears on several occasions throughout the score, with a particularly memorable playing on acoustic guitar in “The Isthmus”. With the various iterations of this theme and the heavy use of woodwinds in the orchestration, these all reinforce the maritime nature of the score. The light-hearted and jaunty, jig-like winds flutterings in “Learning The Ropes” add an innocent angle to the sea-faring adventures.

The major highlight for me though is the theme first heard in the second track, “Our Precious Mother Earth”. Played on solo acoustic guitar, it is used to underscore the contemplative crew interviews. Lyrical in nature, it has a sadness that one would associate with the affectionate recollection of past good times. The 6-minute track, “The Earth Is A Ship”, combines many of the themes used in the score and fleshes out the lyrical theme heard in “Our Precious Mother Earth” with string arrangements to good effect.

The use of snare drums in tracks such as “200 Years Apart”, gives a definite military feel to the score, reflecting perhaps the historical context of the Lynx in the War of 1812. An ominous and foreboding staccato strings device in “The Last Battle of The Revolution” hints at possible dramatic reconstructions that are much loved by documentaries such as this. Nielsen uses “musical signposts” such as the snare drums for a martial feel throughout the score. A Thomas Newman-esque rhythm suggestive of a hard-working crew (“Sailors At Work”) and a repeating string device in “She’s A Fast Ship” for that sense of speed in open water all add variety and additional interest to the score. These musical devices are not subtle but are effective.

Mikael Carlsson’s label MovieScore Media in releasing Tall Ships: The Privateer Lynx continues its fruitful collaboration with composer David James Nielsen. However, in a departure from this partnership’s previous releases, Tales From Beyond and Haunting Villisca, what we hear here is an evocative, thematic score that’s light and airy. Definitely functional but in places quite beautiful. However, in keeping with the nautical feel of this score, the one storm cloud on the horizon is the reliance on samples rather than live instruments for the realisation of this score. Only in a few places are live instruments used – acoustic guitar (for example, “Our Precious Mother Earth”) and (in some passages) solo violin (“Touching The Sea”) – and, in the main, the sampled instruments perform well. But there are several places in the score where the brass (“Sailors At Work”, “The Last Battle of The Revolution”) and woodwinds (““I’m The Captain”: Captain Craig Chipman’s Theme”) sound too artificial to my ears. This score is of a quality that cries out for a live orchestra to have been used and I would welcome hearing this score being played by a live orchestra (are you listening Silva?) Tall Ships: The Privateer Lynx is my first experience of composer David James Nielsen and hearing this score has stimulated my interest in hunting out more of his music. If you haven’t come across Nielsen’s work yet I recommend that you start here.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  1. Tall Ships: The Privateer Lynx (Theme (2:23)
  2. Our Precious Mother Earth (2:02)
  3. Sailors at Work (1:44)
  4. “I’m The Captain”: Captain Craig Chipman’s Theme (1:40)
  5. She’s A Fast Ship (2:03)
  6. The Last Battle of The Revolution (3:14)
  7. Heroes of The Ocean (2:17)
  8. Learning The Ropes (2:32)
  9. Tall Ships Are Made of People (0:50)
  10. 200 Years Apart (1:45)
  11. First Mate Killick’s Message (1:04)
  12. The Isthmus (2:44)
  13. The Earth Is A Ship (5:58)
  14. The Forces of Nature (3:51)
  15. Touching The Sea (2:04)
  16. Sailing In A New Era (2:09)

Running Time: 38:20

MovieScore Media (2011)

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