Home > Reviews > K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER – Klaus Badelt

K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER – Klaus Badelt

k19thewidowmakerOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

It may be a slightly early in a composer’s career to be making statements such as this, but I would be willing to bet that, within five years, Klaus Badelt is the most successful and respected Media Ventures graduate Hollywood has yet seen. This may seem like faint praise, forever lumping him in with the MV crew and making him guilty by association, but when you consider the career free-fall of composers such as Mark Mancina and Nick Glennie-Smith in recent years, the two 2002 scores by the young German promise excellent things. The second of his two scores, after The Time Machine, is K-19: The Widowmaker, a serious and somber submarine thriller starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson and directed by Kathryn Bigelow. The film is set in a tense 1961, the time at which the cold war between the USA the former Soviet Union was at its worst, on board the pride of the Soviet Navy’s submarine division: warship K-19. Hoping to nullify the American threat of nuclear attack, K-19 is placed strategically off the coast of America under a new commander, Alexi Vostrikov (Ford), who replaced the ship’s popular former captain Polenin (Neeson). However, when the K-19’s nuclear reactor malfunctions, tensions begin to surface – not just because of the threat of a meltdown onboard, but because crew members still loyal to Polenin threaten to mutiny.

The seriousness of Bigelow’s vision is carried on into the work of Klaus Badelt, which has been described negatively as “over-wrought” and “intrusive” by various respected film critics, but generally lauded by the film music press. Badelt obviously took the task of portraying the heroism and nobility of the Russian soldiers greatly to heart, and wrote music accordingly, even going so far as to structure his final work as a classical piece subtitled “Suite for Orchestra and Chorus in G Minor”, from which the score’s main themes and motives are derived. Whether this can be construed as pretentiousness on Badelt’s part is open to offers. Personally, I find it refreshing to see a young composer having faith in his own work, and (for a change) the orchestral ability to make such a move in the first place.

If one were to pick one word to describe Badelt’s score, it would probably be “slavic”. The core of the score is built around a languid, vaguely militaristic theme heard in ‘Largo’ where the Kirov Orchestra is accentuated by a tone-setting balalaika. The truly lovely ‘Adagio’ gradually builds and grows into a gloriously dark string crescendo. The whole thing finishes with a grand ‘Mysterioso’, recapitulating the two previous themes in there entirety with equal power, and with the addition of a chorus, making for a stirring conclusion, and only in the three minute ‘Allegro’ does Badelt resort to Zimmer-isms. Although rather clever and exciting, they tend to recall some of the more stirring moments from The Peacemaker.

As previously mentioned, the score proper is derived from the themes set out in the Suite for Orchestra and Chorus; broadly, the score is all themes and variations, with much of the rest of the music nothing more than extended developments of the three major themes. Strangely, though, the score never outstays its welcome – Badelt is always doing enough with the music, varying tempos or adding different orchestral licks, to keep it fresh and listenable. For all its lack of variety, K-19 remains interesting.

‘Home’ begins with a strangely beautiful waltz-like derivation of the largo theme before becoming much more unsettling as it progresses, offset by a set of rattling snares. ‘Heroes’ restates the largo theme in a quietly triumphant major-key setting, with chorus, to continually illustrate at the heroism and nobility of the men who suffered in terrible conditions deep beneath the Atlantic waves. Four-and-a-half minutes into ‘Journey’, Badelt heads down into Basil Poledouris Hunt for Red October territory by having the men of the Kirov Orchestra Choir perform a soul-stirring Russian hymn, and similarly performing a hair-raising choral version of the largo towards the end, replete with hearty, hairy-chested percussion. ‘Missile Launch – The Rescue’ features some all-out action from the Zimmer mould, although some of the cleverly off-key chords make the dissonance slightly more interesting.

The ‘Reactor’ track, is made up of five small cues drawn from a piece called “Voices of Light” by composer Richard Einhorn. Einhorn’s work fits in nicely with that of Badelt in terms of stylistics, with soft strings and vocal work dominating the proceedings. However, it is more low-key, quieter, and less flashy, making excellent use of the vocal talent of soprano Julia Migenes, and also making for a welcome respite from Badelt’s superb but occasionally over-wrought compositions.

The investiture of time, money and talent in this score – how often do the Kirov Orchestra and Chorus get involved in the film music world? – is indicative of how well Paramount Pictures regarded Badelt’s work, and their faith has certainly paid dividends. With excellent “additional work” on Gladiator and The Pledge, and the score for The Time Machine already to his name, Badelt’s musical star looks to be in the ascendancy. K-19: The Widowmaker is a stirring, passionate work, full of gusto and grandiosity.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Fear – Largo (4:03)
  • Fate – Adagio (2:42)
  • War – Allegro (3:39)
  • Soul – Mysterioso (5:30)
  • Home (4:01)
  • Heroes (8:20)
  • Journey (13:11)
  • Capt. Alexi Vostrikov (2:05)
  • Missile Launch – The Rescue (10:00)
  • Reactor- Selections from “Voices of Light” (written by Richard Einhorn) (8:06)
  • Reunion (7:17)

Running Time: 68 minutes 54 seconds

Hollywood Records 2061-62371-2 (2002)

Music composed by Klaus Badelt. Conducted by Valery Gergiev. Performed by The Kirov Orchestra and Chorus. Solo soprano performances by Julia Migenes. Orchestrations by Klaus Badelt, Robert Elhai, Blake Neely, Brad Warnaar and Ladd McIntosh. Recorded and mixed by Alan Meyerson. Edited by Jay Duerr. Mastered by Pat Sullivan. Album produced by Klaus Badelt, Alan Meyerson and Chris Brooks.

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