November 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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EDITOR’s CHOICE November 2000


Alexandre DESPLAT
The Luzhin Defence
 OST, The London Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer
  Amazon UK 


Just as I was thinking that 2000 was a really fallow year with no really impressive new film music, along comes this score and restores my faith in the genre. The score is a misty, dreamy romantic evocation. The opening 'The Luzhin Defence' begins with gently rippling figures for harp and piano introducing an enchanting theme at a slow cantering pace which is redolent of Slavic nostalgia. This theme gains in intensity and it really gets under one's skin. The 'Love Theme' for Luzhin, the unworldly chess master (John Turturo) and Natalia (Emily Watson) is beautifully gossamer tender, vulnerable, and idealistic. 'Arrival' haunts too, a sparkling little gem of restrained excitement and anticipation. 'Memories of Russia' is a complex cue beginning with crystalline sparkle suggestive of a sleigh ride Then comes a glassy stillness disturbed by washes of piano and harp chords with a solo violin and a sinister deep pedal sounding a disturbing sour note. This is a marvellous cue: very evocative and atmospheric.

Dancing on the Lake' introduces some restrained ragtime jazz for what one might imagine to be a rather refined tea dance among potted palms. 'Alexander and Natalia' tentative at first but tenderly romantic reprises some earlier material. 'The Dark Side of Chess' introduces nightmare images of intellectual combat and stress. Desplat displays all Luzhin's mental demons in chilly fashion without recourse to crude synth effects. 'The Red Dress' is another poignantly romantic cue, dream-like and full of yearning. 'Leaving Childhood' is another impressive track with its piano figures supported by pizzicato strings suggesting a balalaika; but this is deeply emotional music, in arresting rhythmic shifts, predominantly string-based, with celeste forward suggestive of early childhood traumas, wolfish nightmares played out against an icy background.

'Luzhin Dreams' is contrastingly ethereal and gentle. 'I Need a Defence' with disonances and quirky effects and zithers is nervous and edgy and those mental monsters (a bit Jaws-like) are lurking in the shadows. 'Natalia's Eyes' has subtle variations of foregone material and quite varied material including washes of harp arpeggios and a lovely bouncy, lilting waltz for piano and orchestra. 'Valentinov' is tense and combative for the actual chess game which continues into 'The Glass King', crystalline yet arcane and deep, with infinitely sad music speaking of chill isolation and mental torture. 'Checkmate', the final cue, seems to indicate resignation before there comes a reprise of the main themes.

Source music is that Shostakovich Waltz No. 2 from his Jazz Suite No. 2, that Kubrick selected for Eyes Wide Shut. Here the playing is not so refined. For unashamed romantics -- look no further.

Ian Lace


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