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Soundtrack review: Jim Henson’s The storyteller (Rachel Portman, 1987, 2018)

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Soundtrack review: Jim Henson’s The storyteller (Rachel Portman, 1987, 2018)

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“The StoryTeller” is a British live-action/puppet television series that originally aired in 1987 and which was created and executive produced by Jim Henson. The series retold various European folk tales, particularly ones considered obscure in Western culture, created with a combination of actors and puppets. The framing device had an old storyteller (John Hurt) sitting by a fire telling each tale to both the viewers and to his talking dog (a realistic looking puppet of a blonde Pudelpointer performed and voiced by Brian Henson) who acted as the voice of the viewers, and was written in a language and traditional style in keeping with old folk tales. I can imagine how special this show must have been with a voice like John Hurt telling he story. Rachel Portman wrote the score and we are getting a 3 hours long 30 years anniversary edition.

This release is very clearly divided, with two suites from each of the 13 aired episodes, plus the elegant, tender main titles that instantly make me think of a BBC drama. I haven’t seen this show, famous as it is so unfortunately the only nostalgia from this score I will get because of the music itself. The score opens with the suites for “Hans my hedgehog”; I am in that period in my life where I read a lot of classical stories to my little girl before bed so I can relate to what’s going on here. The music for “Hans” is a combination of medieval sounding harp and flute and elegant, sad violin motifs. I am indeed taken in a distant, fairy tale world as I listen to this first suite.It’s a charming, reflective piece of music that right away acts like a sanctuary. The second suite from this episode takes the motifs and sound introduced in the first one and deepens them, develops them, as the strings are more somber and complex and the angelic sounds more intense. There’s also the most wonderful traditional Celtic insert, something that will always get to me. As a huge fan of artists like Mike Oldfield and Loreena McKennitt, the music of “Hans the hedgehog” brings waves of pleasant nostalgia.

The next episode, “A story short”, brings a more playful and varied sound with the brass section playing hide and seek with me as if following an invisible creature which takes careful, jumpy steps. The music has tense and suspenseful moments as well while keeping with the overall darker, elegant tone of the show. As the score progresses I am getting a strange feeling of deja vu; each episode has two suites, one 5 minutes long, the other 6 minutes long and there is a core sound, a few core motifs that come in play, the flute, the brass and occasionally there are specific passages that relate to the story, episode at hand. Still not a lot changes from episode to episode and I feel as if I am listening to a coherent composition, to a story in itself, not to separate, distinct elements. “Fearnot” for example takes one of the string motifs already introduced and features it solo, with a heartbreaking Celtic twist.

The more I listen to this score the more drawn I am to its period, evocative sound. Something about it connects with me in a special way and this is the type of music that can meaningfully fill three hours without getting frustrating or too much. Rachel Portman’s musings are veiled and comfortable to the touch and I just love getting lost in them. I imagine fans of the show know what they are in for and will welcome this sound as well. If you are looking for epic or action, keep in mind that this is a Rachel Portman sound and Rachel is one of the most gifted writers of dramatic and romantic music. The score for the first season of the show is a time machine to medieval times where everything was about castles and forests and plains, at least this is what the music evokes to me. Musically speaking it doesn’t matter which cue, which suite you listen to first because whatever you feel about that particular piece can extend to the entire score.

The third CD of this collection is dedicated to the Greek myths section of the show, the final four episodes. Once again having not see the show I was expecting to maybe hear some Greek influences in the music, or a change in tone, but the suites continue their imperturbable flow with the elegant, often somber tone, hypnotic and addictive in the same time. Sometimes the music gets so lyrical (I could mention the “Daedalus & Icarus suite A”) that i get goosebumps while other times the peacefulness is all I need. Only the “Orpheus and Eurydice” suites bring some subtle Oriental inserts.

For fans of Rachel Portman this is an extended and meaningful look into where it all began 30 years ago and for me it was just one more proof that I shouldn’t miss any score of hers. This is a collection worth having for a lot of reasons and I will keep it close for times of reflection.

Cue rating: 79 / 100

Highlights:
Hans My Hedgehog (Suite B)
Fearnot (Suite B)
Theseus & The Minotaur (Suite B)
Daedalus & Icarus (Suite A)
Orpheus & Eurydice (Suite B)
Main Titles (US Version)
BONUS TRACKS: Theseus (Suite)

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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