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EASTERN PROMISES – Howard Shore

September 14, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Clark Douglas

In the humble opinion of yours truly, David Cronenberg is one of the most interesting directors working in cinema today. His films are frequently daring and creative, unafraid to crawl into the dark corners of the soul that are usually left ignored. By Cronenberg’s standards, “Eastern Promises” is a more accessible, less peculiar movie, but that doesn’t mean it’s of any less value than something like “Naked Lunch”. “Eastern Promises” is a superb thriller and an even better character study, featuring award-worthy performances from Viggo Mortenson and Armin Mueller-Stahl.

Cronenberg has faithfully collaborated with the same tight-knit group of people for most of his career. One of the most important collaborators is Howard Shore, who has score every Cronenberg film since 1979’s “The Brood”. Shore’s scores for Cronenberg are frequently as challenging and difficult as the films they are written for. As “Eastern Promises” is one of Cronenberg’s most accessible films, it also features one of Howard Shore’s most accessible scores for the director. Again, the fact that Shore’s music is easier on the ears does not imply a drop in quality… this is a beautiful effort of significant quality.

The first ten minutes of the album is undoubtedly the strongest portion, two pieces dominated by exquisite violin solos. The first is the somber main theme, a restrained piece with a hint of darkness around the edges. It captures the mood of the film very well, and underplays the suppressed emotions of the story perfectly. Arguably even better is the second piece, “Tatiana”. The piece is a theme for a deceased prostitute that never actually appears in the film, though her influence is a very strong one. Throughout the movie, we are given portions from Tatiana’s diary, pieces of information about her life. It is her heartbreaking story that sets the musical tone, a hidden sadness underneath the grit and violence. Variations on these two themes appear quite frequently over the course of the album, particularly the main theme. Shore keeps his variations interesting, and the album is short enough to avoid becoming repetitive.

Another individual highlight is “Slavery and Suffering”, a brief Russian hymnal piece performed by a male choir that stirs the soul. The first (and only) piece of genuine “thriller” music comes in the six-minute “Nine Elms” which may remind some listeners of Shore’s music for “A History of Violence”. Even here, there is a sad restraint, Shore refuses to allow any cheap jolts to creep in. The album comes to a powerful close with “Trans-Siberian Diary”, which allows a large brass declaration to precede a stirring final statement of the main theme. It should also be noted that the iTunes release of the score features an additional piece entitled “Stars on the Knees”, a solid bonus.

I’ll admit that I was one of those film score fans who didn’t pay much attention to Howard Shore before “Lord of the Rings”. However, I don’t think it’s just the fact that Shore wrote “Lord of the Rings” that has given me an appreciation for his work in recent years. Shore has become a better composer, a more interesting composer, and all of his post-LOTR work (with the exception of the banal “The Last Mimzy”) has been top-drawer. “Eastern Promises” is the latest addition to the list of Shore scores I can recommend to anyone, a list that I feel will continue to grow at a steady rate. A lovely effort.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Eastern Promises (5:04)
  • Tatiana (5:11)
  • London Streets (1:56)
  • Sometimes Birth and Death Go Together (1:53)
  • Trafalgar Hospital (1:33)
  • Vory v Zakone (0:48)
  • Slavery and Suffering (2:00)
  • Nikolai (1:19)
  • Kirill (2:09)
  • Anna Kitrova (3:25)
  • Eagle and Star (1:25)
  • Nine Elms (6:15)
  • Like a Place in the Bible (1:22)
  • Trans-Siberian Diary (2:24)
  • Stars on the Knees (iTunes bonus track) (3:52)

Running Time: 40 minutes 36 seconds

Sony Classical SK-716687 (2007)

Music composed and conducted by Howard Shore. Performed by The London Philharmonic Orchestra. Orchestrations by Howard Shore. Featured musical soloist Nicola Benedetti. Recorded and mixed by Simon Rhodes. Album produced by Howard Shore.

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