This Roman Polanski film, I understand, is about dark Satanic rites and it
stars Johnny Depp in what promises to be one of his celebrated bizarre roles.
The screenplay revolves around its characters vying for a certain book that
includes the nine illustrations, reproduced here, all of them having hidden
Wojeiek Kilar has created, without having to resort to synth bolsterings,
a sort of modern Gothic score that must be chillingly effective in the theatre.
It is certainly darkly scary in its own right.
The first cue 'Vocalise' - the main theme lets us into the horrors gently
with slow faltering piano and harpsichord figures supporting a sweetly melancholy
soprano intoning wordlessly. The title is indicative for this track is very
reminsicent of Rachmaninov's work of the same name. Clever this because
Rachmaninov's music was often doom-laden and frequently based on the Dies
irae chant for the dead. This cue becomes more intense as first upper
strings joining the texture followed by lower stings adding gravitas. The
Opening Titles are an exercise in deepest, blackest string writing suggesting
a malignant stalking menace. Higher strings add staccato stabbings augmenting
the sense of deep foreboding with no relief.
'Corso' is a strange jazzy contrast. Over syncopated harpsichord and pizzicato
strings, an assertive, domineering solo trumpet holds centre stage. The music,
at this point, sounds very much like Prokofiev or Shostakovich. Then lower
woodwinds continue the jaunty syncopations grotesquely before doleful strings
continue the slow malignant march of the Opening Titles. 'Bernie is dead'
is another eerie/sinister/darkly comic cue for pizzicato double basses and
bassoons with piano struck in its highest register, those syncopations return
for a 'sick' funeral march. Liana moves the music to highest strings and
treble percussion, piano, vibraphone, celeste, bells etc giving a remote,
glistening other-worldly. The music is repetitive, almost hypnotic, minimalist
Philip Glass-like subtly modulating and shifting dynamics. Another contrast
presents itself as 'Plane to Spain' (Bolero) as the domineering trumpet now
becomes really proud and haughty proclaiming over strong Spanish-rhythms
in the strings. This part of the cue reminds one of both De Falla and Ravel
but soon the rhythm slows and the mood darkens to a sense of foreboding once
more. Those high pitched piano chords jar the nerves in The Motorbike before
mysterious high sustained brass chords and bells with a sort of echoing soprano
solo screw the tension tighter. The 'Missing Book' summons back the jazzy
syncopated chords with harpsichord and trumpet making sardonic comment then
'Stalking Corso' has spaced pounding percussion, heavy piano chords and snarling
brass in frightening crescendo - the writing shows marked originality over
the usual chase music.
The calm before the storm comes with the short soprano solo 'Blood on his
Face.' 'Chateau Saint Martin' is an eerie exercise for high strings and
percussion with muffled cymbals it sounds like the chiming of many clocks
and finally mournful and finaly disonant tolling of bells. 'Liana's Death,
'Boo' and 'The Chase' are all creepy, Gothic, fearsome don't look behind
you cues all masterly written. But it is 'Balkan's Death' that really impresses.
Timpani and percussive poundings with repeated tam-tam strokes and low bassoon
grumblings suggest the beast arising from the fires of hell. A devilish men's
chorus (Orf-like) reinforces this feeling of utter evil and malice. Only
the soprano voice promises any relief. 'The Ninth Gate' is another
remote-sounding soprano solo followed by mysterious high register music seems
to usher in music that has a redeeming radiance. 'Corso and the Girl' suggests
victory of light over darkness - or does it?
Soprano Sumi Jo's beautifully pure tones add poignancy in contrast with the
score's palpable malignancy; and the City of Prague Philharmonic is on top
form. An extraordinary, darkly memorable score.