MUSIC: Screen test: Nicholas Williams on music for screen and stage

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The Independent Culture
Chico the street-cleaner and downtrodden Diane are the lead parts, but the real hero of Seventh Heaven is le bon Dieu. Whenever there's a crisis, his name is invoked, though Chico's an atheist, and Diane's quite happy to wed her man in a highly unusual ceremony of Chico's own devising.

Such paradoxes are common currency in Frank Borzage's 1927 silent-screen epic, revived last Friday at the QEH. Stunning camera work set the context for a film that is both lyrical hymn to love and zealous documentary about Parisian low-life and the horror of trench warfare. The snippets of dialogue flashed across the screen were themselves a brilliant exercise in one-liners. But the real communication was musical: the Harmonie Band playing a specially written score by Paul Robinson.

From the line-up of clarinets, saxophones, sampled piano, accordion, cello and synthesiser, a whole orchestra emerged. Operatic in its breadth, Robinson's score was a superbly crafted montage of leitmotifs: for the lovely heroine, string chords in the style of the 'Moonlight' interlude from Peter Grimes; for the power of fate, ominous bluesy music; and for war, cello chords and spiteful noises from the nether regions of the tenor sax. Robinson has the art of doing these things with perfect continuity. You don't often leave the cinema feeling that the aural and visual nerves have both been truly satisfied.

Visual stimulus at the Wigmore Hall is guaranteed by the surroundings. The musical draw on Sunday afternoon was the Hanover Band authentically playing Haydn symphonies from the Esterhaza years. From the commentary read by Patrick Godfrey, it would seem that daily life at the palace was more heated than detached period performances would have us believe. Even so, directed by Roy Goodman from the harpsichord, the Hanover team showed that the real friction is in the conflict between high- baroque manners and the music's emerging classical mode.

In the first movement of Symphony No 22, Anthony Robson's oboe melody was stalked by the fixed tread of strings - a chorale prelude in all but name. Again, in the Adagio from the C major Violin Concerto, Benjamin Hudson's finely turned solo against a pizzicato background recalled Vivaldi until a closing chord sequence restored a classical poise. And Symphony No 24 contained a languid flute cadenza that would have shocked Mozart with its lack of formal symmetry.

But that's the beauty of Haydn: precious quirks that are the serious face of comedy. In the Farewell Symphony, the comedy is literally in the manners, as the stage empties to the repetitions of a square-footed refrain. The exit was accomplished with style. Only the electric candles spoilt the authenticity.

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