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 artist, Wojciech Kilar. A student of Nadia Boulanger
and an award winner in Poland, his music is 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 beneath
a thundery sky; 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 the work. This extra expense would, I am sure, put
the piece, at just twenty minutes duration, out of court for a concert performance.
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
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 commendable music.