Hugh Bonneville / Damian Montagu

In a South Downs Way

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The draw for this Decca release is not really composer Damian Montagu, nor even trumpeter and former Paul Weller sideman Stewart Prosser, who co-produced the album with Montagu, but Downton Abbey actor Hugh Bonneville, who picked it as a Desert Island Disc. Given Bonneville's own involvement in the project, that's a questionable move: the album features verbal impressions -- he doesn't want to call them poems -- of the South Downs hill country in East Sussex. Supposedly he was inspired to contribute these after hearing one of Montagu's instrumental tracks. You might think from the cover that the album consisted of songs with words by Bonneville and music by Montagu, but actually Bonneville's words are interspersed among Montagu's instrumental compositions -- for string quartet, keyboard, and added instruments such as Prosser's trumpet and others. These, more numerous, may actually be more important in determining your reaction to the album than the Bonneville texts. Montagu claims to have hit on these tunes while walking in the South Downs. Although any other region of Britain might have served as well (and may in the future, for this album is projected to be the first in a series), the overall effect is pleasant. "Atmospheric" is the word people use to describe this sort of thing, and if that rings your bell, you'll find it rung here. The improvised piano part and the added instruments give the music a more personal feel than you might encounter in the likes of Einaudi, and the shift between music and spoken word also contributes a variety that strengthens the whole. Sample from the beginning; you'll know soon enough whether this is for you.

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