Saturday, August 13, 2011

Rachel Portman's latest soundtrack masterpiece

I love Rachel Portman's music. I really do.

Here is a sampling of her latest work in a marvelous, heartfelt film, "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan." My wife thought I'd rebel against the chick-flick nature of the film, but I found it a powerful meditation on the oppressive societal pressures on women, back in the 19th Century and now. It had a plot line that was not painfully obvious, and the acting and writing was outstanding. Throughout the film, I so enjoyed the music, and said, just as the closing credits began to roll, "You know, the music has the feel of Rachel Portman's work..." and then Rachel's name appeared shortly thereafter.

If I had to describe Rachel Portman's work, it would be to say she evokes the culture and time of a film's plot through violins and other string instruments, and the occasional keyboard instrument. Her music speaks within and transcends the story, which is what every soundtrack should strive to achieve. Portman develops a profoundly soulful theme from what are initially simple notes, and yet she maintains a strong fealty to melody throughout the development of the theme.

There is definitely a Portman style, as there is a Danny Elfman and John Barry style. Portman's style is informed by Vaughan Williams, meaning she juxtaposes and combines folk music and classical music--yet she still touches modernity (such as King Crimson) to remind us of where we presently are living. Portman also appreciates the mystery and majesty of film; how film envelops us as we float in and out of reality, and how film emotionally transports us to a different place as we watch and take in what we see and hear.

Portman's masterpiece remains "Nicholas Nickelby," but this new one comes very, very close. Yes, Rachel Portman is definitely my favorite active film soundtrack composer.

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