February 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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Film Music on the Web’s Critic’s Choice 2005


Managing Editor, Ian Lace’s Choice

Harry Gregson-Williams - Kingdom of Heaven - SONY SK 94410

A deeply-felt score for large orchestra and chorus, mixing medieval source music (choirs intoning material frequently suggestive of plainchant and early Gregorian church music modes) and original ethnically-orientated modern music nicely attuned to period and locale. Overall there is an atmosphere of piety and compassion vying with the thunder of combat and the clash of cultures and religions

This is one of those rare ‘soundtrack’ albums that actually sounds better away from the film. Altogether, this is one of the most beautiful and exciting scores that came this reviewer’s way this year.

The Film Music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold - The Sea Wolf, The Adventures of Robin Hood - CHANDOS CHAN 10336

At last we have Korngold’s complete Sea Wolf score – powerfully dramatic and  atmospheric, performed with conviction and intensity and recorded in superb Chandos sound. A short Robin Hood suite, sanctioned for concert performance by the composer, in a reduced orchestration, is quite fascinating and nicely intimate in the love music.

John Williams - Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of The Sith - Sony Classical SK 94220

Better late than never, the recent arrival of this magnificent CD (and DVD) made me drop my original choice of Silva Screen’s Jerry Goldsmith – 40 Years of Film Music (SILCD 1183) in its favour. Revenge of the Sith is quite majestic and a fitting climax to John Williams’s work over all six episodes. Please see a full review of this album on this site this month.

Associate Editor Gary S. Dalkin’s Choice

John Williams - Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of The Sith - Sony Classical SK 94220

One of the three scores surely has to be by the all time greatest film composer, who in 2005 delivered four major new scores (this, War of the Worlds, Memoirs of a Geisha and Munich). And really it has to be Star Wars, the conclusion of the grandest scoring project in all film music. Williams weaves old and new together with great verve and emotional power, delivering a thrilling and triumphant conclusion to the epic sextet. And as a bonus the album comes with an entertaining free DVD.

Alexandre Desplat - Hostage - Superb 72051-2

Desplat is a new rising star in the film music firmament, a rare ray of musical hope in an age of musically low content electronic twiddling and product-placed pop-rock. Hostage is a full blooded action packed romantic suspense score which sends shivers down the spine with its electrifying dynamism and sheer delight in its all out musical pyrotechnics. If I was 16 now I suspect this would have the effect on me now that Williams’ The Fury had in 1978. Not that anything else can ever be quite that good…

Bronislau Kaper - Mutiny on the Bounty - FSM Vol 7, No.16

Film Score Monthly pull out all the stops for a stunning 3CD set of Kaper’s epic score. Nothing if not exhaustive, there is four hours of music, including multiple outtakes and alternative versions, all presented beautifully with a very fine booklet. None of which would mean much if the music wasn’t so good. You may not necessarily need all four hours, but this is a magisterial score, melodically rich and filled with compelling set pieces. Again FSM show how this sort of archive release should be done.

Demetris Christodoulides Choice

John Williams - Memoirs of Geisha - Sony Classical 82876747082

Easily one of the most beautiful scores of the year with a distinct Asian flavour and Schindler's List references. A winner that effectively underlines the beauty of the movie it escorts.

Zbigniew Preisner - The Beautiful Country - Mellowdrama MEL 102

Ethereal, heartbreaking, atmospheric and deeply melodic. Along with Dekalog and It's all about Love, This is Preisner at his best.

Nigel Hess - Ladies in Lavender - Sony Classical SK 92689

Technically amazing, with the brilliant Joshua Bell violin solos sweeping everything on their way. Built on a form of a freely developed violin concerto, this is a melodic and rousing musical treasure

Mark Hockley's Choice

Harry Gregson Williams - The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - Walt Disney Records 61374-7

James Newton Howard -King Kong -Decca Records 476 5224DH

Patrick Doyle - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - Warner Bros Records 49631-2

I’ve already reviewed Harry Gregson-Williams’ Narnia score elsewhere this month so I won’t go on about how much I admired it!

As for Newton-Howard and King Kong, it’s enough to say that I, like many others, was hugely disappointed when it was announced that Howard Shore had left the project, despite the fact that James Newton Howard is one of my favourite composers working today. The fact that he came up with such a poignant, memorable score in such a short space of time is fitting tribute to his tremendous talent.

My third choice is Patrick Doyle’s debut in the world of boy wizard Harry Potter. To follow in the footsteps of John Williams is daunting enough whichever way you look at it, but when you consider that Williams had already created indelible, instantly familiar motifs that simply are Harry Potter, it would be enough to intimidate anyone. Patrick Doyle is a composer with a very distinctive sound, and was a brave choice to succeed the maestro. Despite the magnitude of the task, to Doyle’s great credit he was able to stamp his own identity on the film and create a dark, yet emotional score that bodes very well for future instalments.

Michael McLennan’s Choice

Alexandre Desplat - Birth - (Silva Screen SILCD 1171)

I have never heard a score like the one Desplat has crafted here. Like a cantata for a modern day fairy tale, this abstract but moving score unfolds with both classical elegance and startlingly original choices. ‘Prologue’ lays out the pieces of the board in their most unified statement in the film – a true overture, and that repeated flute ostinato is insanely catchy. ‘The Engagement’ takes some of the same pieces and re-arranges them as a delicate solo piano waltz. ‘The Kiss’ and ‘Birth Waltz’ are deliriously romantic string-lead waltzes. ‘Elegy’ raises the dramatic stakes about as high as they can go with its slow reprises of the principal thematic material. With throbbing bass pulses nicely mixed to the superb London Symphony Orchestra performance, this score amazes again and again. Were it not for Girl with a Pearl Earring, Les Milles, The Luzhin Defence, Hostage, The Upside of Anger, and just about everything else Desplat’s ever done, it would be tempting to call this the breakout of the year. But it’s clear Desplat was always this good. His is the definitive modern symphonic romantic voice among the younger composers.

Ennio Morricone - Fateless - (EMI 7243-860-331-2-3)

From all accounts 2005 was a wonderful year also for Ennio Morricone. Not only were many of his finest themes (including the masterpiece ‘Ecstasy of Gold’) given new life by Sony Classical’s Yo Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone, but new score releases included Cefalonia, Il Cuore del Pozzo, Karol and Lajos Koltai’s adaptation of Imre Kersetz’ literary milestone Fateless. Somehow all these scores were among the maestro’s ‘best in years’ (somewhat like every new Woody Allen film being his ‘best since…’), and while I can’t presently speak for the first three, certainly there’s something special about Fateless, most of which is summed up by the two opening tracks.‘Fateless’ is a lovely Morricone melody in the spirit of Days of Heaven with touching pan flute solos by Ulrich Herkenhoff. ‘Return to Life’ is epiphanic – oboe, choir, organ, high-end strings, Lisa Gerrard and pan flute join together for the first and best album statement of the song Morricone wrote for Gerrard’s considerable talents. And these are only the two main themes! Morricone’s best since Nostromo. It’s that good.

John Williams - Memoirs of a Geisha - (Sony Classical 82876747082)

And in 2005, Yo Yo Ma and John Williams have both had wonderful years. The renowned cellist has collaborated with Ennio Morricone in one of the finest compilation albums ever produced – Yo Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone – as well as followed up his ‘Silk Road Journeys’ album When Strangers Meet with a new album Beyond the Horizons. (The latter featuring impressive new compositions from Chinese film composers Zhao Jiping and Zhao Lin.) As for the Maestro, surely this year has marked his greatest output yet, with incredible new compositions for Star Wars: Episode Three – Revenge of the Sith, War of the Worlds, Munich, and Rob Marshall’s adaptation of the Arthur Golden novel Memoirs of a Geisha. Any one of these scores could be here, but I chose to focus on the most pleasant listen of the four. Together with Itzhak Perlman and a number of other soloists, these two crossover masters deliver on the promise of their announced collaboration on Seven Years in Tibet with a subtly melodic masterpiece. Ian Lace’s review in this edition elaborates on the many reasons for joy.

Zbigniew Preisner - The Beautiful Country - (Mellowdrama MEL-102)

I’m only allowed to name three scores in this section, so the price of my excessive praising will probably have to be to let my review of Preisner’s gorgeous work speak for itself: http://www.musicweb.uk.net/film/2005/fall05/beaucountry.html

Shigeru Umebayashi, Peer Raben - 2046- (Virgin Music CDVIRX215) W/ music by Georges Delerue, Xavier Cugat, Zbigniew Preisner, Secret Garden, Belini, Connie Francis, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole Trio

Wong Kar Wai’s answer to Alan Resnais’ Providence and Liu Yichang’s The Drunkard is my favourite film of the year, and therefore my fondest recollections of the cinematic use of music are to be found here. Though this is a compilation, the list of compiled is an honour roll of modern romantic composers, and is highly recommended to anyone still in the mood for love. The liner notes are the kind of serious analysis film music deserves.

Amand Amar - La Terre vue du Ciel (The Earth from Above) - (Naïve V-4994)

A gem out of the blue. For this film adaptation of the famous photo exhibit of Yann Arthus Bertrand, Amar brought together soloists and full ensemble from the western tradition and combined them with world music ideas in ways that bring most synthesizing composers to shame. A must for those who favour through-composed cues of substantive length and have an emotional journey.

Mark Walker’s Choice

John Williams - Star Wars Revenge of the Sith - Sony Classical SK94220

Perhaps this score's greatest virtue is how Williams completes the architecture of his grand "Star Wars Symphony" by intertwining the new with the old so tellingly. In an age when mediocre New Age droning is de rigeur, it's an all-too-rare pleasure to hear such genuine "Classical" music in a mainstream movie.

Danny Elfman - Corpse Bride - Warner 49473-2

A delightful summation of the best of his Tim Burton projects, Danny Elfman references everything from Edward Scissorhands to Nightmare Before Christmas, but adds some fresh sparkle too.

John Williams - War of the Worlds - Decca 988 1413

Williams builds on the Bernard Herrmann-esque style developed in Minority Report to bolster Spielberg's "adult" sci-fi picture. Edgy and tense, this score is another testament to Williams's dramatic as well as musical gifts.

Amer Zahid’s Choice

John Williams - Star Wars - Episode III - Sony Classical SK94220

Finally in 2005 John Williams has closed the STARWARS cycle and exceeded the expectations of his legions of fans. He has written a truly inspired work. Episode III is by far the most critical and catalytic of the story and Williams has covered drama, pathos and tragedy with rousing themes. The centre-piece is the "Battle of the Heroes" - a massive choral piece that lends to the tragedy a certain sense of legitimacy. In between, Williams sprinkles the themes from the other five films bringing cohesiveness and completeness to the saga. Episode III is where the entire musical tapestry converges. It is the mid-point of the saga and only John Williams could stitch it all together with such panache. Sony Classical adds a DVD containing montage of all the set pieces from the entire 6 films set to Williams music making this the best choice of 2005.

John Williams - Memoirs of a Geisha - Sony Classical 82876747082

Another astonishing achievement from Williams near the third end of 2005. Memoirs is perhaps Williams love song for the 21st Century. He has reached the point where film music and classical music have found a meeting point where both can easily and comfortably co-exist. He has created this wonderful balance and brought respect and recognition to film music. Soaring lush melodies all set in the eastern scales make this a fine and rich listening experience enhanced by the solo performances of Yo Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman on cello and violin respectively. Passionate and yet tastefully restrained, this is Williams at his finest. Special kudos for Shawn Murphy for best recorded sound. An instant classic.

Miklós Rózsa - Three Choral Suites: Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis and King of Kings - Telarc 80631

Rozsa lives on. Nearly decade after his death, the works of this Golden Age composer continue to inspire and renew fans world wide. Starting with the biblical scores he is best known for, conductor Erich Kunzel and team have resurrected Rozsa' dream project. This suite basically covers the trio of Ben Hur, King of Kings and Quo Vadis. Containing both major choral and orchestral set pieces, this is a very warm and engaging summary of the works. The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and Mormon Tabernacle Choir deliver committed and passionate performances. The album is grandly recorded in regal sound. A must have and easily the best re-recording album of the year

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