Home > Reviews > BESIEGED – Alessio Vlad

BESIEGED – Alessio Vlad

besiegedOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

The curse of Bernardo Bertolucci strikes again. Bernardo – or, as one British film critic recently called him Bore-nardo Bertolucci – has never recreated the masterful triumphs of Last Tango in Paris or The Last Emperor, despite having an excellent eye for detail and a sumptuous cinematic style. Besieged (also known as L’Assedio), his latest offering, is the story of a love triangle between an English composer and pianist (David Thewlis), his black African housekeeper (Thandie Newton), and her unseen political prisoner husband. The crux of the film is to do with love, and how it is expressed in different ways by different people. It’s all very stately and very “arthouse”, and has been dismissed by many as being nothing more than a dry and dusty character study.

Another area in which Bertolucci has displayed rather eccentric taste is through his use of music – jazz great Gato Barbieri, Japanese rock star Ryuichi Sakamoto, mysterious Chinese minimalist Cong Su and English composer Richard Hartley have all written for the Italian auteur’s films in the past. For Besieged, Bertolucci has turned to Italian composer Alessio Vlad, whose two most famous outings to date were for Franco Zeffirelli’s films Jane Eyre and Tea With Mussolini. Vlad’s music is performed throughout on an unaccompanied piano by the acclaimed concert pianist Stefano Arnaldi, and bears all the hallmarks of a legitimate classical work. Arnaldi’s performances are expressive and excellent, and contain a delicate beauty which brings out the soothing, lyrical melodies in Vlad’s work.

In the film, Vlad’s music acts as the supposedly original compositions by the fictional composer Jason Kinsky, and as such plays a major role in the narrative drive of the story. Unfortunately, only three cues – ‘Ostinato’, ‘Arpeggio’ and ‘Titoli di Coda’ – have been included on this rather eclectic album, amounting to just over 12 minutes of original score. The remainder of the CD is padded out by a trio of classical pieces by Mozart, Bach and Scriabine, and no less than seven African pop songs.

To be honest, I rather enjoyed a few of the African songs. ‘La Voyageur’ by Papa Wemba and ‘Sina’ by Salif Keita give an indication of the current trends in third world music and are especially interesting for the way they merge traditional tribal chants with 90s synth beats and contemporary instruments. Even Ry Cooder puts in a guest appearance on the track ‘Diaraby’, his smooth guitar melodies proving to be an interesting counterpoint to Ali Farka Toure’s hypnotic percussion and vocals.

Apart from a little curiosity value, this is not really an album worth recommending. Followers of world music will undoubtedly get a kick out of it, as will classical fans desperate for another performance of Mozart’s Fantasy in D Minor, but score collectors are likely to find very little of interest here. I would certainly like to hear more of Alessio Vlad’s music in the future, but unfortunately Besieged is certainly not an album which does his work justice. The CD features liner notes by both Vlad and Bertolucci. Sadly, they are in Italian.

Rating: **

Buy the Besieged soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Ostinato (4:15)
  • Africa (written and performed by J.C. Olswang) (4:09)
  • Nyumbani (written and performed by J.C. Olswang) (3:57)
  • Fantasy in D Minor K.397 (written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by Stefano Arnaldi) (6:17)
  • Prelude in E Flat Minor from the Well Tempered Clavier (written by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Stefano Arnaldi) (4:20)
  • Maria Valencia (written by S. Mutela and C. Poloni, performed by Papa Wemba) (4:02)
  • Le Voyageur (written by M. Munan, performed by Papa Wemba) (4:19)
  • Mambote Na Nje (traditional, performed by Coro Bondeko) (1:46)
  • Sina (written and performed by Salif Keita) (4:48)
  • Diaraby (written and performed by Ali Farka Toure and Ry Cooder) (7:23)
  • Full Option (written by Pepe Kalle, performed by Pepe Kalle and Empire Bakuba) (4:52)
  • Arpeggio (3:49)
  • Etude Op.8 No.12 in D Sharp Minor (written by Alexander Scriabin, performed by Stefano Arnaldi) (2:48)
  • Titoli di Coda (4:33)

Running Time: 62 minutes 15 seconds

Milan 74321-64027-2 (1998)

Music composed by Alessio Vlad. Arranged and performed by Stefano Arnaldi. Recorded and mixed by Maurizio Argentieri. Edited by Fabio Venturi. Album produced by Alessio Vlad and Emmanuel Chamboredon.

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