A few months back, Varèse Sarabande released one great treasure of contemporary score, Rachel Portman’s music to Jim Henson’s The Story Teller (starring John Hurt and Henson’s Creature Shop), in a special limited edition 3-CD set.
For the Academy Award Winner (Emma, 1997), Rachel Portman (Chocolat, Life is Sweet, Smoke, Ratcatcher, Infamous, etc), The Story Teller (1987-1988) was a pretty early score. Portman had mainly worked on made for TV films (notably Mike Leigh’s Four Days in July) when she was assigned to the project for which the amount of work made it her more ambitious to that point. But she certainly was up to the task.
The composer wanted each films of the series to have its uniqueness by carefully choosing what the leading instrument was going to be for each segments. but she oversaw the whole work as a lyrical and coherent suite. There is great depths, meditative nods, a prominent use of brass as lead. She beautifully seizes the magic, translates characters depictions (the leads) against the scale of grandeur (the full orchestra).
At first, suites from the episode Hans My Hedgog offer a substantial range of varieties to come with fiddling (It’s a fairy tale, ain’t it?), piper and harp solos with an emotional scope evoking Nicolas Piovani’s work for the Taviani brothers. In the Story Short suites, with their joyful Klezmer-like themes, the Celesta keyboard makes a remarkable entrance. It is back, later on, with spooky effects (The True Bride) or wicked discordance (The Three Ravens).
Other peculiar features include the vintage electronic wizardly sound of the Ondes Martenot (often confused with its competitor, the Theremin) as part of the suites for the Fearnot episode. Or the beautifully sinister suites to The Lucky Child with ethnic flutes soloists and great bass sounds from the contrabassoon. This great use of bass sonority, with trombone in this case, is also featured in the music of The Heartless Giant in which it helps feel the stomps of the said giant. Other highlight include Melancholia with beautiful short romantic waltz and Sapsorrow with its prominent use of flute and piano with soprano sax solos.
Jim Henson’s The Story Teller 3 CD Set (coming with a 32 pages booklet with liner notes by Tim Grieving) is a gorgeous ‘comprehensive guide’ of composer Rachel Portman broad talent. Great Work. Top release.