Music review: BBC SSO does Chaplin’s Modern Times

Charlie Chaplin's 1936 classic movie Modern Times. Picture: Getty
Charlie Chaplin's 1936 classic movie Modern Times. Picture: Getty
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IT’S A bit of a perverse compliment to say you hardly even noticed the orchestra was there.

Chaplin’s Modern Times/Bbc Sso - City Halls, Glasgow


But that was the effect much of the time at this screening of Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 classic movie Modern Times, with live accompaniment from the BBC SSO under silent movie expert Timothy Brock.

Such was the authentically Hollywood-style sweep and the velvety sonic sheen to the orchestra’s playing, not to mention Brock’s effortlessly impeccable synchronisation with the images (he clearly knew both the movie and the music inside out), that the score seemed to flow directly from the screen. It was only the bright immediacy of the sound and the vivid colours that Brock drew from the BBC SSO players – who were on top form, and seemed to relish the score’s lush melodies and sometimes frenetic rhythms – that reminded you there was a live band playing at all.

As Brock highlighted in his informal and informative introduction, the score is Chaplin’s own – composed after he’d finished shooting the film, and put together with the help of arranger David Raskin. There are admittedly longueurs, and quite a lot of material crops up more than once, but at its best the score is exceptionally effective – as in the film’s famous factory scenes, full of clattering percussion and braying brass, which drew gleefully manic performances from the orchestra. A later merry-go-round scene contrasted throbbing bass clarinet and slithering flutes, menacing and macabre. It was the ideal pre-summer season closer: engaging, provocative, and pulled off with passion and pizzazz.

Seen on 12.06.14