By Karol Krok
Mike Leigh is definitely among most accomplished British filmmakers ever, there’s no question about it. For several decades, he provided the world with unique and thought-provoking cinema with his unique improvised style of directing. And it looks like Mr. Turner, his latest opus, will extend that legacy even further. This biographic drama chronicling the life of Joseph Mallord William Turner (played with great gusto by Timothy Spall) is excellent and many critics consider it to be among the finest of 2014.
Gary Yershon, a frequent Leigh collaborator (on Happy-Go-Lucky and Another Year), was brought back to provide a musical accompaniment for this acclaimed biopic. The score was composed for most interesting ensemble – a string and saxophone quintets. Those two are aided by a tuba, harp, timpani, clarinet and flute. It is a very interesting combination that escapes typical genre clichés as well as creates an interesting and evocative blurry colours mimicking Turner’s own distinct stamp as an artist.
The approach and writing sometimes brings to mind a similar treatment of historical period genre by Jonny Greenwood in There Will Be Blood. There is an interesting discord and uneasiness to some of the glissandi and harmonies employed by Gary Yershon (‘Long Time Ago’) in Mr. Turner. While such attempts might initially feel jarring and out of place, there is no denying they represent main characters’ eccentricities quite well and offer a more timeless sound (neither old nor new).
Also interesting is the use of woodwinds with woodwinds particularly clarinets (‘Mourning’ and ‘Ailing’). Of particular note is an opening of ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ which puts this section of Yershon’s ensemble against saxophone. This is a great example of composer’s approach – the sounds of instruments blend into each other, creating mysterious and ambiguous texture not completely unlike that of William Turner’s painting.
Yershon seems to be exploring register levels of his unorthodox ensemble. Only occasionally do lowers sections take over: in ‘Critics’ it is double bass that creates this ominous tone while sparingly used tuba does the honours in ‘Lashed to the Mast’. On the other side of the pond is piercing duo of clarinet and flute in ‘On the Jetty’.
Among those strange (and seemingly cold) textural effects and registers, there are also warmer and pleasant interludes that offer a casual listener more to latch onto (‘Walks’ and ‘Margate Again’). There are also some more energetic pieces on this album: timpani receives a solo moment as well in ‘Vanishing Day’ while energetic string scherzo conveys ‘Action Painting’. The finale itself, as heard in ‘End Credits’ seems to bring most elements together in one longest tracks. It is not a redemptive ending, quite far from it.
While Mr. Turner section of this disc might seem like a cold ending, A Running Jump bonus section should rectify that to most listeners. Composed for Mike Leigh’s short film tying into 2012 London Olympic Games, this mini-score is an entirely different beast. Playful exercise for piano, two trumpets, conga and electric bass is certainly a nice change of pace after considerably more eccentric musical portrait of famed British painter.
The half-an-hour long Mr. Turner offers more than enough material for an album experience – just enough to give a taste of Yershon’s ensemble experiments. Coupled with A Running Jump, Varese Sarabande disc provides an enjoyable 56 minutes for listening pleasure. Quite different from typical period drama scoring but still well suited.
Mr. Turner is out now from Varese Sarabande