Friday 22 September 2017

Eyeing up the very best of Hess

I was in the optician's, having sat on my spectacles. Don't ask! But Geoff, my eye man, is from the same school as the insurance company that never made a drama out of a crisis. So there's coffee on tap. And classical music.

Scenting the air that afternoon as I sipped my espresso was Joshua Bell's violin, giving glorious flight to a piece that was new to me. Turned out it was a movie theme, for Ladies in Lavender.

The theme, redolent of the Cotswold countryside that Elgar at his most romantic would evoke, was well suited to an optician's in autumn.

The original music is the work of Nigel Hess, a British veteran of the soundtrack for both small and silver screen, and at one time the house composer for the Royal Shakespeare Company. His great aunt was the 20th Century pianist, Myra Hess, a lady whose music even permeated her garden, where the lawn was shaped like the top of a concert grand.

Joshua Bell's involvement ties in with the film's central motif, which is the relationship that develops between two Cornish spinsters -- the ladies in lavender -- and a young Polish violinist, the victim of a marine accident who ends up on a beach near their home.

The soundtrack puts Hess compositions alongside concert-hall staples. We've Debussy's 'Girl with the Flaxen Hair', the 'Méditation' from Massenet's opera Thaïs, and Pablo de Sarasate's 'Introduction and Tarantella' to enjoy as well as further explorations of the signature tune.

These are heard to best effect in the 'Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra'. Then there's the sparkling presentation of a traditional Polish dance 'Zabawa Weselna' (meaning "wedding fun"), where Hess captures the essence of the joy, and Bell delivers it. He rounds it all off with a delicious swirl of a violin-piano duet through the much-loved 'Carnival of Venice'.

Beyond the film score and TV theme, Hess has a piano concerto to his name, commissioned in memory of Britain's late Queen Mother. Beautifully orchestrated, and strong in its melody lines, it has touches of Rachmaninov and Chopin. The Chinese star Lang Lang gives it a really positive performance on CD (Universal 602517748507).

It may still be a little early, but mention of Nigel Hess would not be complete without noting that he has a new album coming out at this month. Silent Nights (Classic FM CFMD17) offers his distinctive take on Christmas favourites, arranged for piano and strings.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 9.30 each Saturday morning. ghamilton@independent.ie

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