Home > Reviews > CAPTAIN CORELLI’S MANDOLIN – Stephen Warbeck

CAPTAIN CORELLI’S MANDOLIN – Stephen Warbeck

captaincorellismandolinOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Stephen Warbeck just gets better and better. I have to admit that, when he won the Oscar for Shakespeare in Love back in 1998, I dismissed his victory as nothing but sheer luck – a middling composer being fortuitously attached to the right movie at the right time. As time has passed, however, my opinion has changed. Fanny and Elvis and Mystery Men were OK. Billy Elliott was good. Quills was excellent. And now, with Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Warbeck has finally emerged as a bonafide competitor to John Barry, George Fenton and Rachel Portman as the British composer of choice for romantic dramas.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is based on the acclaimed airport page-turner by Louis De Bernieres, is directed by John Madden, and stars Nicolas Cage as Antonio Corelli, a lackadaisical, opera-loving, mandolin-playing captain in Mussolini’s Italian Army. Stationed on the beautiful Greek island of Kefallonia while the horrors of World War II rage on in other parts of Europe, Corelli meets and unexpectedly falls in love with Pelagia (Penélope Cruz), the beautiful daughter of the island’s kindly doctor Iannis (John Hurt). However, the specter of war begins to rear its ugly head in the shape of Mandras (Christian Bale), Pelagia’s former beau who returns to the island after fighting the Nazis in Albania, and who is followed by the Nazis themselves. Suddenly Corelli finds himself torn between his duty to a war he does not believe in, his love for a woman who may or may not love him in return, and his affection for an island and a people whose lives will surely be shattered by his presence there.

The thing that strikes you most about Warbeck’s music is its simplicity. There are no flashy, showy orchestrations or intricacies – instead, it is a rich and warm string score which uses a dash of local color to give it character, and a calm, peaceful tone to mirror the quiet waters of the Mediterranean. What’s also interesting about Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is the way in which it was written. Rather than being a conventional “watch the film and stick some music in where appropriate”, Madden asked Warbeck to write the core themes of the film before shooting even took place, firstly to allow Nicolas Cage to perfect the finger-movements of the mandolin he would play on screen, and secondly to allow film editor Mick Audsley to cut the film to fit Warbeck’s musical ideas. The end result is a film and score which sit in complete harmony with each other, and music which plays more like a symphony for the Ionian Sea than a traditional soundtrack.

There are actually four distinct and identifiable themes in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, beginning with the simple, repeated four-note motif that forms the core of ‘Pelagia’s Song’, the central recurring theme of the film (which Corelli is supposed to have written for her), and which is used to represent Pelagia and the various loves of her life. Soft, gentle, and unashamedly romantic, ‘Pelagia’s Song’ receives several recapitulations throughout the score, notably the intimate solo instrumental versions in ‘The Mandolin’ and ‘The Guitar’. The second major theme interweaves delightfully with ‘Pelagia’s Song’ throughout the length of the album – it is similar in tone and orchestration, but not used as a specific motivic indicator, instead embracing a slightly more sorrowful and reflective mood, as if lamenting for the ultimate fate of the island and its inhabitants. It is infused with dramatic sadness in ‘The Recruiting Officer’, peacefully lyrical in ‘Horgota Beach’, and lovingly romantic in ‘On the Jetty’, which underscores the moving final embrace Pelagia and Mandras share before he leaves for the war.

The love theme specific to Corelli and Pelagia is a lush and sweeping melody for strings that makes its first appearance in ‘After the Dance’, when the two first acknowledge their love for each other, subsequently swelling to grand proportions in ‘Lemoni’, while the innocent mandolin-led lullaby that first appears in ‘Agii Fanentes’ brings the score full circle and introduces the conclusive end credits cue ‘Reunion’, into which Warbeck weaves buoyant recapitulations of each of the main themes, and is one of the few times Warbeck really lets rip with the full might of the orchestra.

But the score is not all longing and romance. After brief hints of things to come in ‘Albania’ and ‘The Arrival of the Italians’, three of the final six cues suddenly erupt into terrible anger, bringing a sharper, more determined dissonant element to musically represent the terrible impact of the war on the simple Kefallonian way of life. ‘The Battle, ‘Escape from the Island’ and ‘The Aftermath’ are held in place by a heavy percussion ostinato, and feature some of the most dark and vibrant action writing yet heard from Warbeck. He is not known as a composer of large-scale “fighting music”, but the sounds on display here present a whole new side to his musical nature and could easily open up doors into other genres. In addition, ‘The Tango’ is another exceptional one-off, a wonderfully playful piece of fluff for a local ensemble of brass, accordions and percussion, performed on screen and danced-to by Cage and Cruz.

Best of all, however, are the vocal versions of ‘Pelagia’s Song’ and ‘On the Jetty’ performed by English tenor Russell Watson in tracks 18 and 22. ‘Senza Di Te’ and ‘Ricordo Ancor’ are performed consecutively during the film’s end credits sequence and, while listening to them at the back of the cinema in Sheffield, I virtually burst into tears, such is their beauty. The combination of Warbeck’s stunningly realized themes and Watson’s soaring vocals is nothing short of magical. The stunning orchestral crescendos at 1:32 of track 18 and 2:08 of track 22 are those goose-bump moments film score fans live and die for. They’re that good.

If any romantic score in 2001 comes close to emulating Warbeck’s achievements on Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, I will be very surprised indeed. As an Oscar-winner, and having now written three world-class scores in succession, Stephen Warbeck looks now to be going on to much bigger and better things. Shakespeare in Love may have been something a fluke, but this score is without a doubt one of the year’s best – and more than deserves Academy recognition.

Rating: *****

Track Listing:

  • Pelagia’s Song (4:11)
  • The Recruiting Officer (1:30)
  • To Albania (2:03)
  • Horgota Beach (1:50)
  • Albania (2:11)
  • The Arrival of the Italians (2:36)
  • La Scala Songs: La Donna e Mobile/Lilli Marlene (written by Giuseppe Verdi/Norbert Schultze, performed by the La Scala Singers and Nuccio Siano) (3:08)
  • The Tango (2:14)
  • Santa Lucia (written by Teodoro Cottrau, performed by the La Scala Singers and Enrico Caruso) (3:24)
  • The Mandolin (1:50)
  • After the Dance (2:17)
  • Agii Fanentes (1:35)
  • Lemoni (1:25)
  • The Guitar (1:45)
  • Surrender (2:16)
  • On the Jetty (2:09)
  • The Battle (3:03)
  • Senza Di Te (written by Stephen Warbeck and Didier De Cottignies, performed by Russell Watson) (3:01)
  • Escape from the Island (1:45)
  • The Aftermath (6:47)
  • Iannis’ Letter (1:37)
  • Ricordo Ancor (written by Stephen Warbeck and Paco Reconti, performed by Russell Watson) (3:47)
  • Reunion (3:46)

Running Time: 60 minutes 24 seconds

Decca 467-678-2 (2001)

Music composed by Stephen Warbeck. Conducted by Nick Ingman. Orchestrations by Stephen Warbeck, Paul Englishby, Andrew Green and Nick Ingman. Mandolin solos performed by Giovanni Parricelli. Guitar solos performed by Dario Rosetti-Bonell. Classical arrangements by Paul Englishby. Recorded and mixed by Chris Dibble. Edited by Andy Glen. Mastered by Mike Brown. Album produced by Stephen Warbeck.

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