Nigel Hess: Ladies in Lavender

The British composer Nigel Hess has written hundreds of scores for stage and screen, but it was with his music for Charles Dance’s 2004 film Ladies in Lavender that he truly struck gold with Classic FM listeners.

The film, starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, is set in picturesque 1930s Cornwall. The sweeping, lyrical score perfectly matches the stunning scenery and ocean vistas.

For the main theme, Hess employs a full symphony orchestra alongside a solo violin, performed on the original soundtrack by the star American fiddle player Joshua Bell. Letting the violin take the lead on a film score is nothing new – think of John Williams’s haunting music for Schindler’s List or Shostakovich’s Romance from The Gadfly – but it works remarkably well here. The piece unashamedly harks back to the Romantic era, with its indulgent, wistful sound and tug-on-your-heart-strings tunes. The score also includes a stand-alone Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra, in which Hess turns the major melody on its head, reworking it in a minor key.

In addition to his composing talents, Hess is an accomplished pianist, as evidenced on his disc Silent Nights, which features him performing his own arrangements of Christmas carols alongside members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Recommended Recording

Joshua Bell (violin); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Nigel Hess (conductor).
 Sony: SK 92689.