Home > Reviews > MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD – Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon and Richard Tognetti

MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD – Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon and Richard Tognetti

November 14, 2003 Leave a comment Go to comments

masterandcommanderOriginal Review by Peter Simons

The movies of Peter Weir have had some interesting musical choices. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Maurice Jarre was his composer of choice, contributing electronic scores for films such as The Year of Living Dangerously, Witness, The Mosquito Coast and Witness. For his last major movie, The Truman Show, he combined new and old Philip Glass recordings with an original score by Burkhard Dallwitz. Weir’s latest movie, the sea-faring epic Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World, follows a similar vein, with multiple composers credited. Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon and Richard Tognetti teamed up to write a score that is certainly atmospheric, and has a fair share of enjoyable tracks, yet for some reason is not very memorable. The soundtrack album is a mix of new music by the three composers, several tracks of traditional folk music, and a handful of classical tracks by Mozart, Bach, Vaughan-Williams and the like. The result is a mixed bag – in the negative sense of the word.

Based on the popular series of novels by Patrick O’Brien, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World tells the story of Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and ship’s doctor Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), comrades on the HMS Surprise, one of the greatest ships in the English fleet. As the Napoleonic War rages on in Europe, Aubrey and Maturin find themselves embroiled in a raging sea battle in the south Atlantic with one of Napoleon’s most powerful vessels – the seemingly impregnable Acheron. After suffering a devastating defeat by the French, Aubrey sets off in pursuit of Bonaparte’s men, around Cape Horn, and through the Pacific to the Galapagos Islands, seeking revenge.

The soundtrack for this epic adventure was written by three Australian composers – Iva Davies, an electronic artist who achieved a degree of fame as the lead singer of popular band Icehouse; Richard Tognetti, a virtuoso violinist and leader of the Australian Chamber Orchestra; and Christopher Gordon, the acclaimed composer of such scores as Moby Dick and On the Beach. These three have already collaborated on several occasions in the past (excerpts of their previous works, “Ghost of Time” and “Endless Ocean” actually ended up in the score). Creating a mix-and-match soundtrack like this is quintessentially Weir thing to do, considering how he took the same approach on The Truman Show. However, while The Truman Show was an interestingly mixed bag of musical ideas, Master and Commander is quite disappointing because it lacks direction in both style and theme.

The soundtrack tries to combine powerful Taiko drumming with ambient sound design, Irish folk melodies and classical music from Mozart, Bach, Corelli and Vaughn Williams. And while the album contains plenty of attractive music, overall it lacks unity, and becomes a rather surprisingly annoying listen. The score tracks rely heavily on complex layers of percussion (performed by Michael Fisher) and Gordon’s menacing string chords. At times, the use of Davies’s synthesisers make the music slightly reminiscent of Vangelis’s work on 1492: Conquest of Paradise – at least until another baroque track or Irish folk tune pops up.

While the album as whole may be flawed, the score tracks by themselves – the ones that do not make too much use of Tognetti’s sharp, baroque-influenced violin playing – are actually quite worth the purchase. Although they lack a central theme, they do contain some very enchanting percussion effects and some very interesting orchestral writing. Some of it even seems a little Matrix-inspired, albeit performed in a much subtler way. It’s all very dramatic and quite epic. It’s just a shame about the terrible sequencing on album. Do some programming on your CD player and you’ll end up with at least half an hour of enjoyable, reasonably consistent score music.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • The Far Side of the World (9:19)
  • Into The Fog (2:12)
  • Violin Concerto No.3, K.216, 3rd Movement, “Straussberg” (written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) (1:19)
  • The Cuckold Comes Out of the Amery (3:27)
  • Smoke N’Oakum (5:27)
  • Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (written by Ralph Vaughan Williams) (5:14)
  • Adagio from Concerto Grosso, Op.6 No.8 in G Minor, “Christmas Concerto” (written by Arcangelo Corelli) (1:56)
  • The Doldrums (2:46)
  • Prelude from Cello Suite No.1 in G major, BWV 1007 (written by Johan Sebastian Bach, performed by Yo-Yo Ma) (2:28)
  • The Galapagos (1:39)
  • Folk Medley (5:12)
  • The Phasmid (2:34)
  • The Battle (5:07)
  • La Musica Notturna Della Strade di Madrid No.6, Op.30, “String Quintet in C” (written by Luigi Boccherini) (9:23)
  • Full Circle (1:34)

Running Time: 59 minutes 45 seconds

Decca/Universal 475 398-2 (2003)

Music composed by Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon and Richard Tognetti. Conducted by Christopher Gordon. Orchestrations by Christopher Gordon and Richard Tognetti. Featured musical soloist Michael Fisher. Recorded and mixed by John Kurlander, Simon Leadley, Bobby Fernandez and John Richards. Edited by Simon Leadley. Album produced by Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon and Richard Tognetti.

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