The best film, TV and video game music recordings released in 2021 so far
A list of the greatest albums of film, TV and video game scores released in 2021, as chosen by BBC Music Magazine reviews editor and film music critic Michael Beek
Silva Screen SILCD1595 57:31 mins
Big kids of a certain age will fondly remember Gerry Anderson’s Fireball XL5, the small-screen sci-fi show which ran for 39 episodes in 1962-3. Its brilliantly conceived mix of high-stakes drama, appealing puppet characters and beautifully realised miniatures made it must-see viewing.
The weekly adventures of Col. Steve Zodiac, Doctor Venus, Robert the Robot and the World Space Patrol – in their titular rocket ship – were given fabulously colourful music by the British composer Barry Gray. Gray had worked with Anderson on Supercar, and would go on to score all of the ‘Supermarionation’ series that followed, bringing what would become a trademark sound to the screen.
The drama and peril is taken seriously with an edge of robust, cinematic brass, but those lines are coloured in with playful jazz and pop elements that scream the ’60s and today feel utterly charming.
Gray studied the ondes martenot with its creator in Paris and he uses the instrument’s otherwordly sound to fine effect here, along with harp, guitars, vibraphone and – perhaps ironically for a puppet show – no strings. Silva’s release sounds out of this world, lovingly produced with great attention to detail.
The Crown: Season Four
Sony Classical 19439815892
Trying to separate fact from fiction is par for the course when watching The Crown, which continues to compel audiences on Netflix. The recent fourth series signals the end of Olivia Colman’s reign as Elizabeth II, but I hope it’s not the last we’ll hear from composer Martin Phipps, who has brought a haunting quality to Peter Morgan’s riveting drama since Series Three.
This album takes in the highlights of the composer’s work on the fourth series, which continues some threads sewn in the third, whilst adding thrilling new ideas. Charles and Diana’s troubles are cast with an innocent-sounding synthetic vocal and the iciest of strings; more horror story than fairytale?
James Bond: Agents are Forever
Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Euro Arts 2067774 (Blu-ray); 2067777 (CD)
The conductor takes to the podium and is swiftly shot in the back. He lies motionless on the stage while the orchestra lets rip with the iconic James Bond theme. Not your average concert, then, but we’ve come to expect nothing less from the Danish National Symphony and this latest release is one of its best yet.
Agents Are Forever charts music for some of the screen’s best-loved spies and detectives. Bond looms large, though standout moments include cues from Michael Giacchino and Joe Kraemer’s recent Mission: Impossible film scores and David Arnold and Michael Price’s swaggering music for the BBC’s Sherlock.
Wonder Woman 1984
Water Tower Music WTM40625
We’re still waiting to hear Hans Zimmer’s 007 score, and in the meantime his latest superhero effort has taken its bow in the shape of Wonder Woman 1984. Zimmer takes the reins from Rupert Gregson-Williams, who scored the first film in the franchise, and in doing so ups the ante.
This generous 90-minute presentation is quite the rush, as Zimmer delivers what is probably one of his best-ever takes on the genre. The emphasis on big melodies, orchestra and choir feels like a knowing throwback to the scores of the era in which this story is set.
We named Hans Zimmer one of the greatest film composers ever
David Attenborough: A Perfect Planet
Sony Classical G010004513880O
The BBC’s natural history epic A Perfect Planet had its share of wonder, too. And while nature’s riches were celebrated in ever-more glorious HD detail, there was further emphasis on our role in the planet’s ecologic unravelling.
Underlining the sobering message and beautiful photography is a score by Ilan Eshkeri. His is also an old-school approach, relying on orchestral forces, simple musical lines and some lovely solo moments. The main series theme builds from solo piano to become a rousingly optimistic anthem for wordless chorus and orchestra. This digital-only release sees music for each of the five episodes presented in order and Eshkeri offers up a real mix of moods and emotions.
Decca 356 6750
Though he was responsible for some of the world’s most beloved works of fiction, it’s a chapter from Roald Dahl’s true family story which forms the heart of To Olivia. In the film we meet Dahl, and his wife Patricia Neal, trying to come to terms with the death of their young daughter.
- To Olivia: our guide to Debbie Wiseman's score to the new Roald Dahl biopic
- An interview with Debbie Wiseman
It’s all beautifully done and the original music by Debbie Wiseman plays a big role in painting a picture not just of the family’s grief, but also the beauty and joy that lingers in their memories. It’s a perfect canvas for Wiseman, who always writes so eloquently for intimate drama; her captivating orchestral palette – with the piano at its centre – is applied both firmly and tenderly.
Reviews by Michael Beek
Read more of our reviews of the latest recordings here