February 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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EDITOR'S CHOICE February 2006


Music composed by John Williams
  Available on DECCA (987 9142 2)
Running Time: 62:44
Amazon UK   Amazon US

John Williams’s score for Munich, in its slower more contemplative sections,is not too far removed from his Schindler’s List music. The two stories clearly have some commonality, for this film recounts the tragedy of 1972 when the Munich Olympic Games was blighted by the kidnapping and murder of eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team by members of the Black September brigade.

Williams uses a big orchestra with a large string section. Much of the material is a mix of Israeli Jewish and Arabic ethnic music. The opening track ‘Munich, 1972’ opens with a lament for solo voice (Lisbeth Scott) that will be echoed in ‘Remembering Munich’ which is likely to be this album’s most frequently played track on radio programmes like Classic FM. This gives way to an ominous ostinato and crescendo with increasingly paced pounding piano chords that become ever more desperate and dissonant.

‘A Prayer for Peace’ opens with a plaintive lament for cellos, soon taken up by the violins and the remainder of the large body of strings. It is a moving mix of hymn – sometimes Hebrew-like, sometimes Arabic, sometimes Plainsong-like, sometimes in the tradition of familiar Late Romantic multi-part works for strings. It is a powerfully moving statement. Another track follows for strings – the lovely Hatikvah (Hope) is another Hebrew hymn.

‘Avner and Daphna’ with its sinuous oboe solo, later echoed by massed strings, sounds love in mourning.  ‘Bearing the Burden’ grieves movingly, all swirling despair in lower strings and harp before a deep disconsolate song for oboe, then very low piano (synchronously supported, I think, by what sounds like a harpsichord).  This is a most devastatingly effective track and, at some eight minutes long, the most substantial. Lowest piano chords are something of a feature of this score – they feature strongly in the tense and arrestingly orchestrated ‘The Tarmac at Munich’ while a mourning, despairing piano melody wends through ‘Discovering Hans’

Of course many tracks are tense and suspense-laden as befit a political thriller but the ingredients are mixed and served up by a master chef. Once again John Williams shows how it should be done. I will not analyse them all, as they all grip the ear. ‘Letter Bombs’ for instance is a masterly original tense crescendo both in terms of harmonies and orchestrations. ‘The Attack at Olympic Village’ has a low dark ostinato supporting anguished Arabian figures with low woodwind wailings and timpani. ‘Encounter in London and Bomb Malfunctions’ and ‘The Raid in Tarifa’, for example, employ interesting rhythmic propulsions and sinister drums, menacing low woodwinds and cimbalom figures.

The lyrical plaintive ‘Avner’s Theme‘ is reserved for solo guitar. It is played with sweet tenderness by Adam Del Monte. It is an oasis of calm between the music of violence and retribution. ‘Bonding’ which features Del Mar’s guitar again is another lovely lyrical statement.

Ian Lace


Gary Dalkin adds:-

Munich, not yet released in the UK, would appear to hark back not just to the 1970’s for its story, but also for its approach as a serious, intelligent, hard-as-nails thriller. It seems to evoke the world of John Frankenheimer’s thrillers, specifically the terrorist machinations of Black Sunday (1977), a fine film superbly scored by John Williams.

Indeed, there are hints of Williams’ sometimes sparse neo-classical Black Sunday in the terse and tense suspense writing of Munich. In other areas Williams echoes, as Ian has noted, Schindler’s List, but also draws on the stark string orchestral worlds of Angela’s Ashes (1999) and even the cold minimalism of A.I. (2001); for even much of the most passionate music in this score has an air of elegantly detached coldness running through its heart.

One particularly effecting theme, most fully realised in ‘A Prayer For Peace’ unfolds very much as Williams’ Jane Eyre (1970) reworked in the style of Angela’s Ashes, while Jane Eyre is likewise touched upon in the several variations on the melancholically lovely ‘Avner’s Theme’.

The suspense underscore is less gripping, more minimalist, than is often the case from Williams, but is nevertheless extremely well crafted and never less than rewarding. Fans of the composer will hear hints of prime 1970’s Williams – echoes of Jaws (1975) and The Fury (1978) – in cues such as ‘Bearing The Burden’.  It is all, as is ever the case with this composer, impeccably conceived with an elegance and class which seems to come effortlessly, time after time, and which simply seems to elude almost every other film composer on the planet.

Casual fans will not find this the most melodically engaging or attractive Williams disc – it is too introverted and pungent for that – but the same stark, dark lyricism that runs through Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) is here, bonded to the Hebrew sensibilities of Schindler’s List and shot through with the chill suspense of the composer’s most austere thriller and science fiction writing. One for the serious Williams fans, to whom it is recommended very highly.

Gary Dalkin


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