There is a lofty tradition for music written for films depicting the life
of Christ. With such outstanding works as Miklos Rozsa's King of Kings
and Maurice Jarre's Jesus of Nazareth, a very high standard has been set
by which any composer who follows in their footsteps must be judged. And
so Patrick Williams comes under close scrutiny for his work on this new
production of the inspirational biblical story of Jesus.
The 'Main Title' begins powerfully with a trumpet led theme illustrating
both the nobility and the isolation of Jesus, before developing into stirring
strings in what is without question a very impressive opening. In comparison,
'Joseph Dies' is a more introspective piece with a prominent flute line building
towards an intense finale. The main theme reappears in 'Searching for Jesus',
this time the trumpet soon replaced by recorder to nice effect and we are
treated to some welcome, albeit brief, vocal flourishes in 'Temple, the Early
Days' with lots of brass and strings generating a rousing, distinctly biblical
flavour. The recorder is put to use again in the appealing 'Healing the Sick',
which also features some supplemental electronic background work, a technique
that is also used in a number of other tracks. This then segues into 'Zealots'
with a sudden flurry of brass and drums.
The extensive use of synths on so many tracks could give one the impression
that this score was produced on a relatively low-budget, but that line of
thinking is probably due to the knowledge that a purely orchestral work is
more expensive to record. Whether it was budgetary considerations that were
the reason behind their inclusion or a deliberate artistic choice, it does
not detract noticeably from the music or cause the production to suffer to
any great extent.
'Walking on Water' has a strong sense of drama with lots of big string/synth
work, coupled with brief choral embellishments. While 'Raising Lazarus' delivers
some intriguing bass strings and then soars into a rousing melody replete
with cymbal crashes and this is followed once more by a brief reprise of
the main theme for strings in 'Jesus Arrives'. Rightly in my opinion, Williams
uses this evocative melody as the mainstay of the entire score and it is
certainly memorable enough for you to find yourself humming it hours later.
'The Last Supper' continues with more of what I would describe as traditionally
inspired biblical music, but that is certainly not a fault as it works extremely
well and this makes way for some lower-key moments featuring subtly portentous
strings.Discordant, vibrating synth like some snarling, screaming beast,
plays against a lone trumpet, strings and bass drum in 'Satan'. Finally the
main theme re-emerges briefly to signify Jesus' refusal to submit to the
Devil's insidious temptations. 'Rather effective and unusual.
The next two tracks are relatively short. 'Gethsemane' is no more than
workman-like and 'Taken to Pilate' utilises a snare drum with some interesting
dissonant string and brass.
Sarah Brightman makes an unexpected appearance with her vocals on Andrew
Lloyd Webber's 'Pie Jesu' and sings it as well as one would expect. However,
I'm not at all convinced that it was a good idea to include such a well-known
piece here, as I personally found it quite distracting and out of place.
Also, on a more cynical note, I can't help wondering if there was some ulterior
motive at work. Is it possible that the notion of marketing a CD of songs
inspired by the film (an unwelcome trend seen before on projects like the
otherwise wonderful Prince of Egypt) influenced their decision to incorporate
it into the score? The fact that such an offering is available with performances
by Leann Remes, Hootie and the Blowfish and Yolanda Adams among others, speaks
'The Passion' continues with more strident brass backed up by drums and this
leads us into 'The Crucifixion' which impresses with many fine moments, the
solitary trumpet main theme preceding a string based variation and ending
with a kind of death knell. There is another engaging, somewhat understated
reprise of that key melody in 'Jesus has Risen' although it never quite delivers
the emotional pay-off one expects and hopes for. And finally, 'I am with
You' lets the recorder lead alongside the trumpet for one last rendition.
Sometimes when scores repeat a central motif like this, there is a real danger
of it gradually being robbed of its initial impact, but thankfully that is
not the case here. This relatively simple (isn't that true of all the best
ones?) but notable melody is always welcome.Having listened to this work
a number of times now, I find myself very much wanting to see how it actually
works in the mini-series itself, as I have a strong sense that it will be
quite a powerful experience.
In some ways this could be described as an almost score. The emotion and
drama are there, but because of the very nature of this unique story you
still feel it should deliver even more (particularly when recalling Rozsa
and Jarre). Nevertheless, Patrick Williams' music is still certainly worthwhile
and I think it is enough to say that I came very close to giving it a full
four stars. If it is not in the same class as those that have come before
that is more a compliment to the composers of the past, rather than a criticism
of this latest musical interpretation of the greatest story ever told.