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AMÁLIA – Nuno Malo

February 23, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

amaliaOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Amália da Piedade Rodrigues was a Portuguese singer and actress whose life and work helped popularize fado – a specific genre of Portuguese folk music – on a worldwide scale. From the 1940s until her death in 1999 Amália was known as Rainha do Fado (the Queen of Fado) and was immensely popular in her native country, selling hundreds of thousands of records. Carlos Coelho da Silva’s film Amália, which stars Sandra Barata Belo in the lead role, is the story of her life. Although the film played in theaters in Portugal in 2008, it is only just now beginning to surface in other countries; to coincide with this wider exposure, Moviescore Media has released the film’s score, by US-based Portuguese composer Nuno Malo. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Malo has written a few scores of note prior to Amália, the most high profile being the 2006 literary adventure The Celestine Prophecy, and the 2007 courtroom thriller Julgamento (the score for which was also released by Moviescore Media). Amália, however, is likely to be the score which attracts the most attention from international audiences. It’s a score which speaks to the strong emotions inherent in fado – loss, mourning, reflection – but which also accompanies the life of a woman whose legacy on her chosen style of music remains unsurpassed. Now, I admit I don’t know a great deal about the conventions of fado. Apparently it has a very specific structure, and uses a specific set of instruments, but I can’t offer any commentary on whether Malo’s music is especially authentic in that regard, or provides a proper representation of what fado music means to the Portuguese. But one thing Amália does have in large amounts is sheer, unadorned beauty.

The main theme is “Lament – Fado dos Meus Erros”, which translates as “Fado of My Mistakes” and acts as a recurring theme for Amália in her life. It features in two performances, an orchestral version at the beginning of the album, and an utterly sublime variation featuring Tina Guo on a solo cello which is simply breathtaking. The theme is quiet and delicate – and undeniably reminiscent of Ennio Morricone at his most romantic – but over its length gradually grows and swells into a truly lovely, rich melody that swoons with romantic, melodramatic elegance.

The body of the score oscillates between equally stunning orchestral cues, and livelier, sunnier pieces, some of which make prominent use of acoustic guitars. “Opening – Close to Death” is quite breathtaking, haunting and mournful, but exquisitely rendered, especially when a subtle sampled choir provides a ghostly accompaniment to the Hungarian orchestra. Later, “The Death of Aninha”, the stirring “The Cliff”, the bold triptych “Making Love/The Beating/The Collapse”, and the tragedy-laden “Trashed Poem” revisit this beautifully tragic sound to excellent effect, really showcasing Malo’s obvious talent as an accomplished dramatist and composer of rich, emotional music. The penultimate cue, “Amália – The Ending”, has a warmth and lyricism that is just stunning.

At the other end of the scale, “Bola de Berlin (Young Amália)” is much more light and effervescent, clearly a reflection of Amália’s idyllic life in the Mediterranean coast, and contains a few bars in which celestas carry the main theme. “Amália and Santo” has a hesitant, almost bashful feeling, redolent of young lovers unsure of themselves or what to do with each other; “Amália At Her Parents’ Home” features the first of several intimate and expressive acoustic guitar solos, another nod to the musical conventions of the region, and which are revisited in later cues such as “Amália Tenders to the Poor” and the reflective “Amália Remembered”. Every time I hear the irrepressibly cheerful “Cesar’s Theme”, complete with a whistler and shuffling maracas, I want to lie on a beach somewhere and drink margaritas.

The CD is bookended by original recordings of two of Amália’s most famous performances, “Estranha Forma de Vida” and “Vou Dar de Bebar à Dor”, which really highlight the immense vocal talent she had at her disposal. A couple of cues of dissonance – “Nightmare” and “Death in a Taxi” – break up the flow of the album a little, but these are minor issues in a score which, for the rest of the time, is a sheer delight from start to finish. Malo’s talent for crafting melodies of emotional weight which, despite their beauty, never come across as maudlin or manipulative is impressive, as is his mastery of a full symphony orchestra the comparatively young age of 33.

Although neither The Celestine Prophecy, nor Julgamento, nor Amália were successful films in terms of box office performances, it cannot be long before Nuno Malo’s music receives the plaudits it deserves, and joins the ever-growing list of exceptionally talented young European composers making their way through Hollywood, and bringing their talent and sophisticated music to wider audiences. I certainly hope so, because if the music heard here is a reflection of the kind of writing Malo is capable of producing on a regular basis, we are in for a treat.

Rating: ****½

Buy the Amália soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Estranha Forma de Vida (performed by Amália Rodrigues) (5:05)
  • Lament – Fado dos Meus Erros (Orchestra Version) (4:09)
  • Opening – Close to Death (2:26)
  • Bola de Berlin (Young Amália) (2:26)
  • Amália and Santo (3:29)
  • Nightmare (1:54)
  • Amália At Her Parents’ Home (2:00)
  • Fruit to Sailors (0:54)
  • Cesar’s Theme (1:09)
  • Riciardi and Amália (1:19)
  • The Death of Aninha (1:45)
  • The Cliff (1:01)
  • Death in a Taxi (0:41)
  • The Bridge and X-Ray (0:40)
  • Amália Tenders to the Poor (0:41)
  • Making Love/The Beating/The Collapse (3:16)
  • Trashed Poem (1:25)
  • The Girl from Israel (1:41)
  • Amália Remembered (1:11)
  • Goodbyes (2:20)
  • Amália – The Ending (1:38)
  • Lament – Fado dos Meus Erros (Cello Version) (4:17)
  • Vou Dar de Bebar à Dor (performed by Amália Rodrigues) (2:27)

Running Time: 47 minutes 54 seconds

MovieScore Media MMS10024 (2008/2010)

Music composed by Nuno Malo. Conducted by Géza Török. Performed by The Budapest Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Bálint Sapszon. Featured musical soloist Tina Guo. Recorded and mixed by Dénes Rédly and Bill Pearson. Album produced by Nuno Malo and Mikael Carlsson.

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