It's surprising that the soundtrack of an upcoming nine-hour television special has to struggle to occupy two sides of an album. Then again, the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Charles Dickens' "Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby" (be glad you don't have to put that on a marquee!) is reportedly a triumph of words and acting. The music is, as they say, incidental; its saving grace is that it sounds more like movie music than television music.
Which is not to say that there aren't delightful moments that may be enhanced by a post-viewing visual connection: "Dotheboy's Hall" has that stately Church of England hymn aura; a swirling "Farewell Waltz" is enchanting and on the verge of teariness; "Wedding Anthem," with the Saint Paul's Cathedral Choir soaring angelically above the sprightly organ lines of Leslie Pearson, is inspiring, but not to the degree that the choral music over the credits to "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" was.
One problem is that some songs last less than a minute and have no time to make an impression; others seem disconnected. "Home In Devonshire" is vacuously pretty, "Masterpiece Theater" music; "Sir Mulberry Hawk," with its sly saxophone, is mischievous but would be more at home in an Alec Guiness comedy.
These tunes are orchestral arrangements of music written by Stephen Oliver, who also provides lyrics for several songs in the exaggerated Victorian style (the bombastic "Patriotic Song," the sentimental "Mrs. Grudden's Goodbye" and the oafish "At the Opera"). The parts amount to far less than the sum of a long night's music, but then, who's going to listen to the spoken-word version? ON RECORD, ON AIR THE ALBUM -- The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (DRG SBL12583). THE SHOW THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (8 to 10); Thursday (8 to 11) on WTTG-5.