February 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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Music composed by Alexandre Desplat
  Available on RCA Red Seal (82876-76121-2)
Running Time: 45:59
Crotchet   Amazon UK   Amazon US

Alexandre Desplat is a composer who rightly attracts everyone’s attention. His latest score, for the Golden Globe-nominated film Syriana, is unobtrusive yet a turbulent work that accurately captures and underlines the essence and tension of the movie.

Set against a background of corruption in the oil industry, Syriana provided the perfect canvas for Desplat to create a singular score. Desplat always surprises, he is never content to rest on any formula even if it is proven successful. He utilizes a string-heavy orchestra, together with a large, multi-coloured array of ethnic instruments (stringed and plucked instruments, percussion and woodwinds). Desplat has grouped together an inspired musical ensemble for this work. The main key-players are Djivan Gasparyan’s exotic duduk, Pedro Eustache’s ney, Armen Ksajikian’s and Andrew Shulman’s melancholic cellos and harp.

There are two primary themes: the first appears initially in the opening “Syriana” performed by harp. When combined with the succeeding string motif, it’s almost identical to the main theme (“Leave no man behind”) from Hans Zimmer’s BlackHawk Down, a score which Syriana is very much influenced by. The theme is amazingly beautiful and quite addictive though; it appears throughout the score in several variations of style and instrumentation. “Syriana (piano solo)”, “Truce”, “Falcons” and “Fathers and Sons” are the notable ones, with the last one perorated on full orchestra, and featuring duduk and beautiful cello solos, altogether a rousing, heart-warming and touching performance; it is simply the best cue of the whole score.

The second recurring motif is mainly given to the piano and is strongly reminiscent of Thomas Newman. This theme is the core-component of one of the score’s most interesting pieces, “Driving in Geneva” where a powerful, nervous 4-note string ostinato that contrasts brilliantly and violently with the very offbeat piano theme. Thirdly, there is an element that washes throughout the whole score and underlines almost all of the cues, regardless of their nature and other components; a Birth-like heady electronic motif, either presented as an 8-note or as a 2-note melody and always performed on low-electronics, adding a mysteriously pompous, and headily haunting timbre to the overall work. Other pieces are either cleverly-constructed and varied underscore, or rousing mayhems of ethnic percussion (oil drums, goblet drums) and ethnic soloists (duduk, oud, ney), together with harsh electronics. The overall product vividly resembles the corresponding instrumentation and arrangements Zimmer used in BlackHawk Down and Antonio Pinto in Lord of War.

Syriana is admittedly aimed at rather eclectic audiences. It is not an easy listrening experience but it is an intelligent, well-crafted and imaginative work with dense harmony and rich instrumentation from an extremely talented composer who has dedicated a lot of work, study and passion into one of the most innovative and efficient scores of the year.

Demetris Christodoulides


Ian Lace adds:-

I have to add a sour note.  After the promise of such brilliant scores as: The Luzhin Defence, The Girl with the Pearl Earring and Birth, this comes as something of a disappointment.  Too much coarse synth that sounds quite barbaric; and that curiously conveys a sense of depravity and of burning. It may well fit the film splendidly but as a listening experience – NO! Sorry but I feel I can only award

Ian Lace


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