This disc is in the ever-burgeoning Marco Polo ‘Great
Film Music’series. So far this has included composers like Arthur Bliss,
Hugo Friedhofer and Max Steiner. Whereas they were significant film
composers of the past this release is of music by a contemporary hitherto
unknown to me, the Ukrainian-born Wojciech Kilar. A student of the extraordinary
Nadia Boulanger and an award winner in Poland his music has the especially
important characteristic of being economically wrought, evocatively
orchestrated, atmospheric and discreet. Yet when it depicts the psychic
state of characters it deepens and when the dramaturgy demands that
the music take over it does so with power.
It’s worth adding at this point that Kilar is a versatile
composer. Marco Polo released, a couple of years ago (Naxos 8.554788)
a recording of some his chamber music including a gripping Horn Sonata.
To be a fine composer does not make one into a fine film composer. I
have no doubt though that Kilar is certainly the latter.
The cover of this CD is adorned with a ‘hellish’ portrait
of Whitby Abbey with a thundery sky for company; a scene straight out
of Bram Stoker’s novel. From the film, a suite of a little over twenty
minutes has been assembled. It comprises six contrasting movements,
some dark and frightening, some more romantic and tender as with the
third depicting Mina/Elizabeth the heroine and Jonathan Harker’s fiancée.
The ‘Vampire Hunters’ movement is just a grinding rhythm under a not
particularly distinctive melody and is frankly rather dull for repeated
hearing at home. No doubt it is most effective in its cinematic context.
A mixed chorus is needed, troll-like, for the last movement.
In a sense this music can only exist in this form on
CD. Can you honestly imagine a promoter putting on a film suite in Britain
by a little known composer, even worse, as far as promoters are concerned
‘Dracula’. The next film represented is another six movement suite this
time from ‘König der letzten Tage’ (The last days of the king).
This uses a large orchestra and again a male and female choir. They
chant, most evocatively, sections from the Mass, a Sanctus a Kyrie and
a Gloria to end of the work. This extra expense would, I am sure, put
the piece, at just twenty minutes duration, out of court for a concert
Nevertheless this score has a memorable sound, evoking
a noble and biblical landscape with its modal harmonies and melodies.
These could jar if overdone, but I found them most gripping and on the
whole more interesting than Dracula, which, after all, is the film that
is meant to attract the buyer in the first place. Yet, is this the sort
of music that you would want to hear regularly? I think not.
I must say at this point before you give up on me,
that any teacher, looking for material for the GCSE Film music course
could do no worse than buy this disc; there is enough material here
for quite a few questions!
The other three scores represented are not given as
much space. ‘Death and the Maiden’ (no he doesn’t quote Schubert) is
a psychological thriller about Paulina Escobar, a victim of political
torture. Three short movements amounting to about twelve minutes represent
this. ‘The Beads of One Rosary’ is set in an old Polish mining town;
territory familiar to the composer as his place of birth, Lvov, was
originally in Poland. This is represented by a single four-minute piece.
A fascinating and original idea is begun by a rather arbitrary sounding
piano motif which eventually accompanies a delightful, rather Eastern
European melody which in turn is soon taken up by a lone trumpet. The
atmosphere builds to become mechanistic and almost inhuman.
‘Pearl in the crown’, the earliest music by Kilar represented
here, is set in the 1930s during a time of industrial unrest. It is
a passionate score, incorporating something of a Kilar trade mark, a
slowly rising and developing melody over a pounding timpani bass. Listen
out for it in the two earlier suites. This music has become his best
known, according to Richard Whitehouse who has written the booklet notes.
Therefore it seems something of a pity that room could not be found
for a little more of it. Another query. Why has it taken Marco Polo
over five years to bring this CD out? Surely it must have been most
frustrating for all concerned?
The Polish National Radio Orchestra play with commitment
and passion. The strings especially sound impressive and as far as I
can tell their performances are ideal. The Cracow Choir are strong and
well balanced and the whole enterprise well presented and with music
to commend it.