August 2004 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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EDITOR’s CHOICE August 2004


The Village  
Music composed by James Newton Howard
  Violin – Hilary Hahn
Orchestrations by Jeff Atmajian and Brad Dechter
Pete Anthony conducting the Hollywood Studio Symphony
  Available on Hollywood Records 2061 62464-2
Running time: 42.31
Amazon UK   Amazon US


See also:

Signs The Sixth Sense
Snow Falling on Cedars

Hitchcock and Herrmann, Schaffner and Goldsmith, Spielberg and Williams, Burton and Elfman… often the most satisfying film music comes from a regular collaboration between director and composer. Now following The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000) and Signs (2002), we must surely add Shyamalan and Howard. M. Night Shyamalan has directed just four films, each one scored by James Newton Howard, together the two defining their own creative territory in the supernatural horror/thriller stakes. Elsewhere the recent Dreamcatcher has further demonstrated Howard's affinity for the horror genre.

I haven't yet seen The Village – at the time of writing the film hasn't opened in the UK – but from the mood of the soundtrack album it will be a quiet, introspective horror tale. One more built upon melancholy atmosphere than bludgeoning set-pieces. Not as introspective as Howard's spectral, beautiful Snow Falling on Cedars (2000), but close.

Central to the score is a folk-like violin voice, where giving the project a touch of very serious class Howard employs, rather than a top session musician, international concert hall violinist Hilary Hahn. Here it is essential to consider the folk Americana roots of The Village, a project filmed in Pennsylvania in the shadow of the Appalachian mountains. Hilary Hahn hails from Virginia, and began studying music in Pennsylvania at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music in 1990. Hahn is in every sense a local girl made good – an album released in 2000 presented a coupling of violin concertos by Samuel Barber and American composer Edgar Meyer, the later work specially written for the soloist.

Meyer himself has often collaborated with violinist / composer Mark O'Connor, whose music has celebrated the Americana culture of the Appalachians. O'Connor and Meyer, together with superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma recorded two hit albums, Appalachia Waltz and Appalachia Journey. (Incidentally Yo-Yo Ma has not only recorded John Williams' Seven Years in Tibet (1997), Williams has composed concert hall cello works for him.) All of which is to give an idea of the musical territory in which Howard is operating in collaborating with Hahn – there is a richly lyrical folk-like quality to the scoring of The Village which taps into a similar vein to O'Connor's chamber and orchestral reworkings of traditional Appalachian folk musics. This is the American equivalent of Vaughan Williams reworking of English folk song into his orchestral work.

The result is elegantly tasteful, sombrely autumnal and deeply melodic. Anyone who enjoyed Hahn's Americana violin concerto with Edgar Meyer will love this. Hahn's violin, effortlessly bridging the space between folk melody and classical purity, is to the fore in many tracks, the sensibility at times pitched between the legacies of Herrmann and John Williams – as when the darkness unfolds in 'The Forbidden Line'. Full scale horror only briefly rears its head – for example in 'Those We Don't Speak Of' and 'It's Not Real', while the artful violin and piano lyricism of the main theme, wonderfully illustrated in the opening of 'The Vote' is more characteristic of this eloquent soundtrack.

A supremely polished and elegantly tasteful score which could well cross over into mainstream classical popularity, The Village is an exquisite work on every level. Fans of James Horner's Iris will be enchanted. As James Newton Howard's most accessible Shyamalan score to date it is sure to win him many new followers, while it may also lead film music buffs to explore the music of Hahn, Meyer, O'Connor, etc. and that can only be a good thing.

Gary Dalkin

***** 5

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