Peter Gregson: A Little Chaos
Milan Records

The orchestral score cellist Peter Gregson composed for A Little Chaos (directed by Alan Rickman and starring Kate Winslet, Stanley Tucci, and Rickman, among others) adheres to a number of conventions associated with the soundtrack genre: most of the recording's sixteen pieces are in the one- to three-minute range and therefore designed to complement the film's scenes; a broad emotional range is encompassed by the material in keeping with the presumed emotional contrasts of the film's narrative content; and so evocative are Gregson's settings that one can hazard a pretty good guess as to the kind of scene they're accompanying even if one hasn't viewed the film. That's helped along by a measured musical trajectory that climaxes in the soundtrack's longest setting, the rousing title track, fittingly sequenced so that it's followed by a credits-accompanying outro.

But that Gregson conforms to said conventions is no black mark against the soundtrack. The musical material is orchestrally lush and, in keeping with the story, suitably exquisite. too. In the film, a female landscape-gardener is awarded the assignment of constructing the grand gardens at Versailles, a position that naturally puts her at the very center of the court of King Louis XIV. One imagines that a little chaos, romantic and otherwise, might very easily arise, given such a set of circumstances. In its formal classical tone, Gregson's strings-heavy soundtrack sits very comfortably alongside those Italian composer Dario Marianelli created for Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007), and Anna Karenina (2012) film treatments.

Strong conveyors of mood, the settings range from pensive vignettes for piano and strings to episodes dramatic and agitated by comparison. At one moment, strings swell to an emotional height; at another, piano playing suggests a character's introspective yearning. The music is refreshingly free of bombast, and Gregson exercises admirable restraint in his arrangements. No more than two to three instruments appear in a given piece, resulting in music of remarkable delicacy (“Don't Ask Me” and “The Music Comes from the Heavens” representative examples). Sadness, wonder, regret, anticipation, excitement, joy, triumph—all are brought to vivid life in Gregson's forty-two-minute score.

We first became aware of Gregson, incidentally, courtesy of Gabriel Prokofiev's 2010 release Cello Multitracks, a superb showcase for Gregson's cello artistry, and only a few months ago were presented with The Watched Clock, an EP-length collaboration involving Gregson and British composer Rael Jones. Gregson also has established himself as a solo artist whose second album, Lights in the Sky, was released in mid-2014 and whose third is scheduled to appear on Sono Luminus in late 2015. A Little Chaos is Gregson's film scoring debut, and it thus shouldn't come as a total surprise that he hasn't rewritten the soundtrack rulebook, so to speak. But on purely musical grounds the material is certainly far from objectionable, and one expects it won't be the only soundtrack he'll be asked to create.

July-August 2015