Music From The Movies
Welcome to Middletown, a bible-belt town that is slowly losing itself to the sins and pleasures of the 20th century, where drinking, gambling and smuggling are the order of the day. Enter Gabriel Hunter, one of the town’s sons, who has been away receiving religious instruction and told at a young age that he was ‘chosen by god…’ Gabriel takes it upon himself to save the town from the ills that modern society has slowly infected it with, confronting even his own family with a choice between God and the Devil.
Heavy stuff then from director Brian Kirk, along with a marvellous and ultimately inspiring performance by Matthew McFadyen in the lead role. Composer Debbie Wiseman reveals in the liner notes that it was his performance that inspired her initially, citing it as ‘extraordinary’.
Middletown is a score that relies heavily on mood, texture and a small clutch of thematic material that is explored and worked through throughout the twelve cues. As usual the composer has approached her work with much thought and intelligence, making pivotal choices about how the music will work in relation to the story. For example there are no woodwinds to be found here; the orchestra is made up of brass, strings and piano, the marriage of which creates a brooding intensity and an intended sense of claustrophobia in places.
Debbie’s strong main theme, introduced in the opening cue ‘One Of Our Own’, is a haunting, lonely melody for solo violin. Performed by young violinist Jack Liebeck, the instrument very much becomes Gabriel’s musical voice, solitary and impassioned. This theme is the root of the score and is returned to again and again, sometimes opened up with more strings (as in ‘Not As I Will, But As Thou Wilt’) and even piano (‘Our New Preacher’).
Another thematic line is begun in the second cue, ‘The Hour Is Coming’, which sees a relentless, driving refrain in the strings and piano. Atop this is the violin, which is zealous in its performance, mirroring Gabriel’s passion and almost maniacal devotion to his mission. Again this is a refrain that is returned to throughout the album, from ‘The Messenger of God’ through ‘I Bring You This Child’ and the finale cue, ‘Sinners and Blasphemers’. The latter track very much retraces the entire work, so certainly a contender for future compilation albums and lengthy at over seven minutes.
There are some moments where the heaviness lifts and the mood becomes perhaps slightly more reflective. These cues, notably ‘The Heart Of My Family’, see harp, strings and Liebeck’s consistently beautiful performance in a slightly higher register. ‘Chosen By God’ has a simple harp line accompanied by very rich strings and later joined by much higher register strings – and is a standout cue.
Other cues to highlight are ‘No Rest For The Wicked’, which introduces a meandering piano line and a short propulsive motif in the strings, and ‘An Infant Born In a Public House’ which sees another rambling piano line, this time cushioning yearning strings in what is quite an emotional piece.
Although there is a fair amount of repetition with regards to some of the motives and refrains on album, I believe this only serves to increase the intensity of the listening experience. Middletown is a first class effort; Debbie Wiseman has created a musical landscape that is filled with depth, emotion, pathos and much drama.