December 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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Half Light  
Music composed and produced by Brett Rosenberg
Performed by John Bradbury (solo violin), Dermot Crehan (Irish flute), Simon Chamberlain and Ron Rosenberg (piano)
Orchestrated and conducted by Nicholas Dodd
  Available on MovieScore Media (MMS-06009)
Running Time: 49:13
Available from iTunes

The Swedish label MovieScore Media continues to put out film scores by unknown composers on the market (and at an exceptionally high rate I must add, for such a small label), and with Brett Rosenberg’s beautiful, expansive score to Half Light they have perhaps produced their best release yet. Half Light is a thematic, heartfelt score that also features some large-scale dramatic scenes, resulting in one of the more satisfying listens of the year so far.

Half Light was orchestrated by Nicholas Dodd, a name that probably brings to mind the bombast of David Arnold scores like Stargate and Independence Day, which Dodd orchestrated – but let’s not forget that Dodd orchestrated Mychael Danna’s beautiful, classical-style Vanity Fair as well. This score is much closer to Vanity Fair than any of Dodd’s Arnold scores, with a very intimate feeling throughout, except for some larger dramatic sequences where some avant-garde techniques are employed. But for the most part, Half Light treads lightly through territories of beautiful violin, flute and piano solos backed by a lush symphony orchestra.

Rosenberg crafted some quite strong thematic material for Half Light, with three memorable themes forming the centre of the score. There is the gorgeous main theme, opening the score on strings in the Main Title over soft piano figures, swelling up in a wonderful crescendo backed by the full orchestra. It is as said a gorgeous theme, lovely intimate and tender. It is complemented by ‘Rachel’s Theme’, a melancholic solo violin melody over piano that reminds a little of both James Newton Howard’s The Village and Danny Elfman’s Black Beauty. The ‘Love Theme’ has this quality as well, but this is a more romantic theme, swelling up to a full-bodied rendition of the theme carried by horns (in a style vaguely reminiscent of James Horner).

This score is in its first half a very intimate work, carried by a multitude of instrumental solos against a well orchestrated backing. There is a lovely version of the main theme on solo piano in ‘The Cottage’ (performed by the composer’s father), a pleasant, restrained solo oboe melody in ‘Get It On’ and a romantic flute rendition of Rachel’s theme in ‘Rachel’s Healing’, just to mention a few. The piano also dominates much of the background scoring, almost always present together with the orchestral accompaniment. It is a very nice, lyrical quality to this piano writing, integrating the instrument in the orchestra successfully. As mentioned, the orchestral writing here is excellent, underlining thematic passages with rich bass sonorities (in both brass and strings), as well as frequent use of harp.

As the score moves along, this lyrical, intimate writing gives way for more suspenseful material. This music is introduced already in the beginning of the score, in ‘The Drowning’ – the track begins quietly with strings and piano flourishes, but soon leads into dissonant territory with first tremolo strings and then blasts from the brass and heavy percussion. After this a sombre vocal motif is introduced which will continue to symbolise the supernatural side of the film. The vocal returns in ‘Thomas Appears’ as well as ‘Dreams and Drowning’. Tense atmospheres often give way to tender thematic moments, and they never just fall down into uninspired droning. The mystical ‘Haunted’ with its lonely flute solo over tremolo strings is a highlight of this suspenseful side of the score, a perfect example of how beautiful and effective this type of writing can be.

Half Light has its fair share of larger dramatic sequences as well, featuring some dissonant, relentless writing – for smaller instrumental settings dominated by strings and piano, like ‘The Reflection’ and ‘Losing It’, as well as the fully orchestral ‘Now You See Him…’ and the climactic ‘The Houdini’. These larger sequences utilise the piano’s higher notes as well as high-pitched glockenspiel (‘Now You See Him…’). Rosenberg has used some avant-garde techniques in this music, and like much of that kind of music it is not easy listening. The harsh writing can be a bit hard on the ear, but thanks to the careful build-up to these sequences and the relative brevity of them, they fit very well into the weave of the score.

It might be argued that Half Light borrows a lot from many other scores, and stylistically that is true. But even if there are echoes from other composers in Rosenberg’s writing, it is combined into something fresh, a personal style of the composer. There might not be any new, ground-breaking approaches to film scoring in this work, but who said that is necessary for a good score? This is beautiful, engaging, and exquisitely well written. It is also, I think, fortunate that Rosenberg got the opportunity to work with Nicholas Dodd – for much has been said about Dodd’s strong stylistic involvement in the scores he orchestrates. But Rosenberg seems to have a strong voice of his own and there is no doubt about Dodd’s competence – the pairing of composer and orchestrator must indeed be a good one when it results in music this enjoyable.

In the end, Half Light is no groundbreaking score, but it is a lovely one, filled with much of the sweeping thematic, orchestral writing that once got me into film music and effective suspense writing that not that many composers do this well. No matter how many times similar things have been done before, this is still very good music that no one should miss out on. And I really hope to hear more from this composer in the future. This is a very promising start.

Adam Andersson

Rating: 4

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