I mentioned this marvellous disc in a recent review of
another Touch release (Jóhann Jóhannsson's Englabörn)
and here it is in a repackaged reissue. The music was written for
Fridrik Thor Fridriksson's Oscar winning 1991 film Children of
Nature and the score itself won the Felix Music Award that year.
The film tells the story of an elderly couple escaping the confines(?)
of Reykjavik to make an epic journey back to their old home in the
stunning but often savage Icelandic rural landscape; the beautifully
produced booklet features several stills from the visually stunning
movie but do see it if you ever get the chance. Suffice to say that
Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson's soundtrack lives up to its task admirably.
Hilmarsson is more recently known for his production
work with Icelandic "avant electro-folk" group Sigur Rós
and on Rímur (a new release on the Naxos World label)
featuring Steindór Andersen's interpretations of a traditional
form of narrative Icelandic epic song. However, on Children
of Nature, he makes full use of keyboards, electronics and
samplers, supplemented highly effectively by strings and percussion.
The result, which he dedicated as a "commemoration of those I
have loved and lost", is an accessible but profoundly moving set
of short pieces which have a melancholic yet often uplifting feel
to them. For those who insist on labels, this is superior soundtrack
music rather than classical music per se but remains a
firm favourite for me, seven years on from its first release.
The opening Ars Moriendi, with its violin
and cello driven themes, later reprised in Titles, sets
the scene for rest of the album perfectly. The keyboards and electronic
effects are never used excessively and this music feels much more
organic than synthetic, especially as there are plenty of sampled
natural sounds, e.g. choirs. Sudurgata may be the best
known track here as it has also appeared on one of the Touch samplers
and it is a gorgeous fusion of yearning Bachian (or Pärtian?)
violin melody and Nordic folk music - I never tire of hearing
it and look forward to many more people hearing it through this
timely reissue. On Farm, Hilmarsson introduces some oriental
instrumentation alongside the violin, providing a slightly different,
more dissonant take on the overall mood, followed by the brief
Snatis's Death and the heavier more substantial Journey,
in which a cavernous, echoing sound picture predominates. After
the rhythmic interlude that is Escape, Coffin is
less grim than its title suggests, some rather resigned organ
sounds being kept afloat by bells and a gorgeous violin melody.
Gregorian chant can be heard in parts of Ascension but
it is interpolated so skilfully and unobtrusively that the crassness
we often associate with this sort of melding of disparate musical
elements is totally avoided. In Titles, the violin tune
from the very opening of the disc makes its reappearance, and
quite rightly so, given its sheer simple beauty. Aerophilia,
as the title suggests, is the lightest piece on the disc and puts
me in mind of Eric Serra's music to The Big Blue. The latter
is meant as a complement and the score as a whole can stand against
the very best film music anywhere as far as I am concerned. Here
percussion underpins chiming, upwardly spiralling keyboard melodies
leading us (relatively) light-heartedly into the climax of the
record, the valedictory Pretty Angels which, in contrast
to the preceding track, is rather more severe than we might have
expected. It starts off like an orchestrated version of Joy Division
(New Dawn Fades or The Eternal, something like that!)
then develops into a tuneful, elegiac procession culminating in
a glorious conclusion featuring organ and harpsichord.
So who should like and therefore buy this album?
For starters, anyone who likes tuneful, melodic but serious modern
music, e.g. ECM aficionados - Touch's production values echo that
special label's and this music is not a million miles removed
from the most recent inspirations of, say, Garbarek or Rypdal.
Also, fans of superior soundtrack music (Bladerunner?
Kitaro's Silk Road? Lord of the Rings?) are
sure to respond positively to a significant voice in the genre.
However, anybody who has any interest in any of the other artists,
groups or composers mentioned above is bound to find something
here for them too. In short, a record of wide appeal and hopefully,
second time around, equivalent success. Of its kind, this is a
truly great achievement, a stunning document I urge you to investigate
Obtainable direct from www.touch.demon.co.uk