Album Reviews

Anthony Hopkins – Composer

(Classic FM/Decca) UK release date: 16 January 2012

His most famous character Dr Hannibal Lecter had a taste for opera music as well as human flesh. But who would have thought that Sir Anthony Hopkins himself would prove to have an aptitude for writing classical music?

Certainly not the Oscar-winning actor, whose confidence in his abilities to compose was limited to improvisations on the piano at home, played for his own enjoyment only. His wife Stella prompted him to expand on his musical thought, to explore his talent further, and the end result was a concert with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra last year, caught by Classic FM.

On one hand Hopkins was extremely lucky, for few contemporary composers get to jump in feet first with an orchestra as good as the CBSO. Yet on the other hand the music fully merits its status, for Hopkins writes with considerable flair and confidence. The feel is very much that of a man who loves making music, who writes instinctively from the heart. With that instinct comes a strong grasp of structure for shorter, more cinematic works, rather than complex symphonic forms – yet within these numbers Hopkins develops his work subtly and never settles for mere repetition.

Orpheus is a bold opener, showing off brightly coloured orchestration, strong melodic material and choral writing that harks back to Vaughan Williams by way of Howard Shore. Amerika surprises with the sudden blast of the Symphony Hall organ, but also shows off Hopkins’ ability as an orchestrator, its material moving between brass, woodwind, strings and choir with relative ease. Evesham Fair holds back more, delighting with its scoring for solo strings that makes use of modal melodies, again bringing to mind Vaughan Williams.

Yet this is music is far from derivative, and, as its risky title Composer suggests, is original enough to forge its own path. And The Waltz Goes On is an especially attractive number, its persuasive lilt beautifully caught by the orchestra, and the inclusion of the wordless chorus is a nice touch because it is done thoughtfully rather than making the mistake of using all the performing forces for the sake of it. Andre Rieu thought enough of the piece to record it himself, with a closing violin cadenza wrapping things up nicely.

Occasionally the recording is too reverberant, and the start of Margam finds the solo pianist cast adrift in a big pool of ambience, but the response, a beautifully played oboe solo, is poignant and returns the music’s sensitivity. This is a quality Hopkins has, the ability to emote without wearing his heart too much on his sleeve. Meanwhile 1947, a short suite from the composer’s film score for Slipstream, finds impressive kinetic energy in the punchy horns that recall by turns Gershwin and John Barry.

As a film composer Hopkins has recently flexed his muscles, but by his own admission the concert and subsequent album release are the fruits of a couple of decades’ work and enjoyment in music. That we will certainly want to hear more says much for the quality within. Hannibal would love it.

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