Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? [Original Music from the Motion Picture]

Alex North

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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? [Original Music from the Motion Picture] Review

by James Leonard

While Mike Nichols' 1966 film of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? gets more frightening every time you watch it, Alexander North's score to the same film gets more consoling every time you hear it. Nichols' film, particularly the performances by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, has scenes of terrific intensity, but North's score, though faithful to what's on screen, has a tenderness, even a sweetness, that transforms the ultimate meaning of the film. Part of it is North's characteristically evocative orchestration with some cues delicately scored for guitar, celesta, bass clarinet, harpsichord, and a pair of harps, while others are scored for spare almost spooky winds arrayed against soothing strings. But most of it is North's soaring melodies and brooding harmonies -- and especially his big-hearted main theme. By prefiguring the film's reconciliatory ending, the solace offered by North's score transfigures all the horrors enacted between Taylor and Burton.

Though clearly the anonymous studio orchestra wasn't given much time to learn its parts -- the ensemble sometimes flags, the strings' intonation occasionally turns sour -- the individual players' performances are persuasive. The stereo sound is impressive for its clarity and immediacy, but unfortunately the remastering here is so minimal that the sound seems to be coming directly off of an old LP. The inclusion of snippets of Taylor and Burton's dialogue from the film at the start of some tracks is at first disconcerting, but will help orient the listener who hasn't seen the film in a long time.

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