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Sunday, November 16, 2008


The Battle of the Somme
Music by Laura Rossi
Virtuosa Records VRCD001 (UK)
5 Tracks 67:24 mins

In 2006, to mark the 90th anniversary of The Battle of The Somme, composer Laura Rossi was commissioned to write a new score for the digitally restored film of the same name, which was made by British official cinematographers Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell, not originally as a feature film, but once the import of their footage was realised, the British Topical Committee for War Films decided it should be presented as such. The film remains one of the most successful British films ever made, with an estimated 20 million tickets sold in Great Britain in its first two months of release. It was subsequently distributed worldwide to demonstrate to allies and neutrals Britain's commitment to the First World War.
Now the film has been released on DVD, complete with Laura's recorded score, which actually received its UK premiere this afternoon at a special screening at the Imperial War Museum. I was hoping to bring you my review of the music before the event to encourage you to attend, but unfortunately this wasn't possible. Still, I hope the event went well and that I can now encourage you to acquire the soundtrack at least.
Laura Rossi, whose past projects include the critically acclaimed Silent Shakespeare for the British Film Institute, and recent features London to Brighton and The Cottage, actually has a connection with the Battle of the Somme, in that, during her research on the film and the battle, she discovered that her great uncle Fred Ainge had served as a stretcher-bearer attached to the 29th Division on July 1st 1916. What's more, this unit appears in the film, and she actually thinks Fred can be identified. With the aid of Fred's diaries, retrieved from her aunt's attic, Laura visited the Somme Battlefields and was able to locate the areas in which he served.
The 8-page booklet that accompanies the CD, features three extracts from Fred's diaries, along with an interview with the composer; but if you wish to read the diaries in their entirety, go to Laura's website at
So, on to the music presented on this disc, which features the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Nic Raine, who did such a splendid job on Tadlow's brilliant release of Miklos Rozsa's El Cid recently (see my review earlier on the blog). There are five quite lengthy parts, leaving plenty of room for development. Obviously, not having seen the film puts me at a disadvantage, so, as often is the case, I'll just have to rely on my impressions of the music.
Part 1 is the longest at just over 16 minutes, a somewhat ominous opening timpani roll giving way to a feeling of flight, and even anticipation, with a brief pastoral interval, the music resuming more purposefully for a while, before the timpani returns, giving way to a Coplandesque interlude, but then gaining fresh purpose and import. The track falls silent, the quiet only interrupted by menacing bursts on the timpani, joined by almost eerie strings; the full orchestra returning buoyantly, with the Copland Rodeo feel following on briefly. The mood doesn't last though, and its back to the menace from before to close.
Part 2 runs for 11 minutes and opens with fanfarish brass, the music continuing with something of a lilt, before turning anxious and expectant, building to a powerful crescendo; next racing forth eagerly, then determinedly, only to be brought down to Earth by powerful timpani crashes again. The strings struggle to emerge from the tragedy, but are soon crushed by the timpani, allowing only a sad woodwind refrain to briefly escape; the track ending oppressively.
Part 3, at 13:31, opens with a sustained timpani roll, giving way to a gradual feeling of dawning and a time for quiet reflection and largely muted thanks for having survived the horrors that came before. A pause leads to a pastoral conversation for woodwinds, which soon scatter in the face more ominous timpani rumblings, leading to a closing passage for increasingly impassioned strings.
Part 4, running 10:35 minutes, starts out quite airily, on woodwinds and strings, giving way to a noble, heroic passage for first solo horn and then full orchestra, rising eagerly to a crescendo on the strings, before lingering sensitively on solo violin; full strings returning to leave the track somewhat unresolved.
Part 5 is almost as long as Part 1, and starts out quietly, but a passionate violin solo leads the strings on emotionally, before re-emerging to herald the big and impressive finale, with its perhaps predictable, but always effective trumpet solos, more emotional strings , and powerful call to arms finale.
This is my first exposure to the music of Laura Rossi, and a fine introduction this CD makes. It's a passionate work, made so, I' am sure, as much by her family connections to the battle, as by the powerful images it accompanies. It certainly ticks all the right boxes for a work of this nature, and no doubt makes for an admirable accompaniment to this monumental film, which you can now add to your collection of cinematic greats by ordering from; and while you're at it, pick up a copy of Laura's soundtrack from You won't be disappointed.


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