June 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Michael McLennan
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster: Len Mullenger

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Dear Wendy  
Music composed, orchestrated, produced, and conducted by Benjamin Wallfisch
Performed by The Philharmonia Orchestra, featuring Alistair Malloy (glass harmonica), Benjamin Wallfisch (piano, synthesizer programming), Elizabeth Berkley (piano on ‘End Titles’) and Elizabeth Wallfisch (vocals)
Except: “Prism” performed by Donald Grant (violin), Bjorn Bantock (cello) andAdam Johnson (piano)
“Discovery” performed The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Benjamin Wallfisch, produced by Alexander van Ingen
  Available on Movie Score Media (MMS-06004)
Running Time: 33:59
Available for purchase from iTunes (click on purchase link at bottom of page)

See also:

  • V for Vendetta
  • Grieg Cello Concerto
  • Active in the concert hall as Associate Conductor for English Chamber Orchestra and Associate Composer of the Orchestra of St John’s Smith Square, Benjamin Wallfisch is mostly known to film score collectors via his orchestrations and conducting for Dario Marianelli’s recent projects – The Brother’s Grimm, Pride and Prejudice and V for Vendetta. Though the music presented here on Movie Score Media’s new iTunes release is his debut film score as composer, his experience with Marianelli has obviously been good preparation, as it’s an excellent, if brief, score.

    The film was Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s follow-up to his much-derided science fiction romance It’s all about love. That Claire Danes – Joaquin Phoenix film was the sort of film no-one ends up liking, despite having many virtues, not the least of which was Zbigniew Preisner amd Nikolaj Egelund’s wonderful score. Here Vinterberg works from a script by Lar von Trier about violence in a small American town, featuring Bill Pullman and Jamie Bell. The intriguing concept is very much what you’d expect from the author of Dogville and a former Dogme director (Vinterberg directed Festen), centring on a group of young men who form a group based on gun fetishism, but with the mandate that they will never use their weapons.

    I can’t quite see how Wallfisch ended up on this film (a required number of UK-based crew for investments to qualify for tax concessions?), and perhaps the liner notes could have addressed this question. In any case, it’s a score that alternates between subdued orchestral lyricism and sparse textural moments. The main theme is for the Jamie Bell character Dick, and is first presented in the moving orchestral opener ‘Showdown’. The harp accompaniment recalls Gabriel Yared’s main title from Cold Mountain, the way the theme itself moves from strings to solo woodwind and violin recalls Mychael Danna’s subtle melodies. The overall tone is of melancholy and the fragility of life. ‘Dick’s Theme’ is a sparser arrangement for solo piano and strings (reminiscent of Preisner and Ledzek Modzer’s ‘wet’ piano sound), and ‘Dick’s Story’ offers a brief flute variation. Hint of the theme appear through the score, even when it isn’t stated in full, as in the more textural ‘We were one, Wendy’.

    The more textural side of the score employs disturbing electronic layers and glass harmonica, first heard in ‘First Letter’, then in ‘First Shot’. (The use of glass harmonica also suggests Danna, whose Heart in Atlantis score also found use for the instrument in a small town story.) A sparse piano melody in ‘Electric Park’ with soft string accompaniment is rendered subtly disturbing via a hint of glass harmonica. Subtly processed female vocals doubled with glass harmonica drive ‘Wendy calls to Dick’, a thick low string chord carrying the cue at the end. Those who don’t favour the more textural approach to film scoring will probably be less interested in purchasing these cues.

    Wallfisch finds the right balance between non-intrusive scoring and interesting composition though. ‘The Dandies’, with it’s woodwind arpeggiations, churning tremolo strings and heroic horn calls, is an unexpected highlight pitched somewhere between Richard Wagner and Philip Glass. The lower reaches of the orchestra wretch in the first half of ‘Dick’s Insanity’, as in ‘Ultimate Darkness’. Brass glissandos and extreme divisi writing in ‘Close Escape’ end a bit too briefly, but doubtless serve their part well in the film before the melancholic celesta melody that closes that cue. The harp of the opening cue returns in ‘Final Tragedy’ with a flute-led reprise of Dick’s Theme that develops into a tumultuous string and brass adagio that recalls (and not for the first time in this score) Elliot Goldenthal, a solo oboe carrying the conclusion. The ‘End Credits’ are a brief piano reprise of the ‘Dick’s Theme’.

    As a bonus to counter for the score’s short running time, the iTunes album also includes excerpts from concert works by the composer. ‘Prism’ is an involved atonal work with prominent solo parts for cello and piano, while ‘Discovery’ leans more to the brass and achieves something a little more melodic. I recommend them both, though when playing with the rest of the score, it’s probably better to put ‘Prism’ between tracks 12 and 13, and ‘Discovery’ between 13 and 14 when they seem to fit nicely for me. Even though they were never written to be part of the score, they seem to make explicit the threat of violence implicit in the score but never full given voice.

    But this is a strong score. I haven’t heard Unknown Soldier, but of the four releases I have heard, this is the strongest of Moviescore Media’s Releases to date, and the strongest evidence of the need for an internet-releasing soundtrack distributor. Would this short score of twenty five minutes by a new film composer for a fairly obscure arthouse film have ever been released otherwise? Not likely, and not because the music wasn’t good enough. Benjamin Wallfisch’s score here encourages me to see the film, and to hear more of his compositions – whether for film or not.

    A somewhat tangential point to end on is that this edition has featured two reviews of original scores for films by former adherents to the Dogme manifesto – Dear Wendy and Brothers (composed by Johan Soderqvist). It’s nice to know that having tasted the spurious ‘honesty’ of no music at all, these directors have embraced its power in subsequent efforts.

    Michael McLennan

    Rating: 4

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