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NO GOD NO MASTER – Nuno Malo

September 13, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

nogodnomasterOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Two Italian immigrants to the United States, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, became causes célèbres in New York in the 1920s when they were arrested, tried, and subsequently executed for their apparent part in the murder of two men during the armed robbery of a shoe factory. Popular contemporary thinking maintains that Sacco and Vanzetti – who were both unapologetic anarchists who advocated relentless warfare against a violent and oppressive government – were framed patsies, convicted as a political statement despite overwhelming evidence of their innocence, and much study into their case has been conducted in the years since their deaths. Director Terry Green’s film No God No Master uses the details of the Sacco and Vanzetti case as part of a broader-brush film about U.S. Bureau of Investigation Agent William Flynn, who in 1919 was assigned the task of finding those responsible for a series of package bombs which exploded on the doorsteps of prominent politicians and businessmen. Before long Flynn is immersed in an investigation that uncovers an anarchist plot to destroy democracy, and brings Sacco and Vanzetti to his attention. The film – which was completed in 2012 but only opened in limited markets this summer – stars David Strathairn as Flynn, James Madio and Alessandro Mario as Sacco and Vanzetti, and features an absolutely spectacular score by Portuguese composer Nuno Malo.

The story of Sacco and Vanzetti was told once before by Italian director Giuliano Montaldo in 1971, in a film which had a score by the legendary Ennio Morricone; as such, Malo had some significant footsteps in which to follow. Thankfully, Malo was not overawed by the task at hand, and wrote a serious, intelligent orchestral score that combines real beauty and tragedy with some more strident action and suspense sequences, as well as an overarching Italianate aspect that speaks to the cultural heritage of the two men at the core of the story. The score was recorded in Hungary with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra, the Jubilate Girls Choir and the Sopranos of the Cantate Choir, and features highlighted solos for piano, violin, and cello that are utterly sublime.

The “Opening Titles” introduce the score’s main theme; a bubbling piano motif that gradually emerges into a nervous-sounding, tension-filled piece for strings, woodwinds and cimbalom, which has a sense of foreboding to it, but also seems to have an element of warmth and nostalgia. It’s difficult to describe the conflicting emotions it conveys, but the way in which the melody seems a little off, a little twisted, is very captivating. By the end of the cue, it has become much more martial and powerful, through the increased use of brass, illustrating the theme’s adaptability. Its various performances and variations, like the one in the stunning “The 10,000 Immigrants Arrest”, are laced with tragedy and sacrifice, while its final major performance in the penultimate cue, “Nulus Deus, Nulus Dominus/Main Theme Reprise”, is reverential and emotionally powerful.

A second theme, for Bartolomeo Vanzetti himself, makes itself known in both “Vanzetti’s Past” and “Another Bomb/Vanzetti’s Theme”, where it is anchored by a sensational cello solo by Chinese-American cello virtuoso Tina Guo. The most overtly Italianate of all the melodic ideas in the score, Vanzetti’s theme has more than a hint of Nino Rota about it, a gorgeous lament for the ideals of the old country, full of a sense of longing for home. These pieces, as well as the haunting cello variant on the “Rockefeller Confrontation”, are all really quite beautiful, and eloquently highlight the talent for elegant thematic writing Malo has shown in each of his scores to date, as well as his personal love for the cello – the instrument he himself plays.

In addition to Guo’s cello, the other instrumental textures and solo performances Malo uses are all exquisite. Yue Deng’s solo violin performance in “Bike Ride Through Little Italy” is gorgeous, and it’s interesting to note how the surging strings are essentially performing the same rhythmic ideas that the piano and cimbalom did in the opening cue. Similarly, the deconstructed violin restatements of the main theme, offset by a churning string underbelly and several contrapuntal variations of the theme on bass flutes and low horns, make “Flynn’s Search for Tony/Galleani’s Capture” one of the score’s centerpiece cues. The nervous, rattling flute textures and undulating scales Malo employs in the cue’s second half are especially delicious.

The piano solos, performed by Malo’s wife, the Croatian-born concert pianist Ivana Grubelic, are delicate and lovely. The performance of the main theme in “Flynn Talks With Tresca”, which combines with some pretty harp textures, is one of the thematic highlights of the first half of the score. Later, both “Vanzetti Finds a New Home” and the rather clunkily-titled “Vanzetti Gives a Cat to the Little Boy” have a sense of optimism and gratefulness, while the gently captivating “Three Friends” and “Sacco‘s Dream” feature a lovely combination of piano, strings, and flute, and have a sense of innocence and introspection that recalls some of Thomas Newman’s more well-expressed moments.

Action and suspense music is not something Malo has explored too often in his career, but No God No Master gives him ample opportunity to do just that. Cues like “Bomb in the Church” and “Explosion at Louise Berger’s”, for example, are tightly-wound, using more surging string rhythms, occasional statements of the main theme, and more pensive use of flutes and cimbalom, in a way that recalls some of Ennio Morricone’s music from his political thrillers of the 1970s and 80s. Later, nervous-sounding clarinets and flamboyant, whooping brass scales make “Interrogation at Luigi’s Place” a sort of intellectual dance, while the dulcimer combines with tension-filled metallic percussion effects, a more thrusting rhythmic element, and the first whisper of a choir in “Memorial/Police Attacks”, with equally excellent results.

The choir finally joins in earnest during “Arm Robbery/Sacco and Vanzetti’s Arrest”, continues in the tragically beautiful “Catacomb of the Flower of Mankind”, the solemnly reflective and respectful “What About the Others?”, and the aforementioned “Nulus Deus, Nulus Dominus/Main Theme Reprise”, which clearly grieves for the fate of the wrongly-accused protagonists. The final cue, “No God No Master (Piano Trio)”, is a 3-minute exploration of the score’s main thematic identity, stripped down so that it features only Guo’s cello, Yue’s violin, and Grubelic’s piano, and would not sound out of place in a chamber music concert hall.

With exceptional scores such as The Celestine Prophecy, Amália, and Miel de Naranjas already under his belt, Nuno Malo is making a real statement for himself with No God No Master. While all those previous works overwhelmed the listener with beauty and passion, No God No Master brings a new level of intelligence and sophistication to Malo’s writing that shows his maturity as a composer. The way the thematic ideas mold themselves to the needs of the film via their ability to change their tone and intent is very impressive, as is Malo’s overall mastery of the orchestral forces at his disposal. The ideas Malo brings to the table, in terms of the textures and performance flourishes, are outstanding, and make the score actually interesting to listen to, which is not always a given in many contemporary scores. From one cue to the next, you’re never sure which instrument is going to take the leading role from a thematic performance point of view. The various rhythmic ideas pass from strings to flutes to cimbalom, giving each successive cue a different weight balance, and stopping the score from being repetitive or predictable. This is all very much to Nuno Malo’s credit.

There’s clearly something flowing in the waters of the Iberian Peninsula that has made it the epicenter of some of the best film music in the world over the last few years. The lone Portuguese interloper into the group of young, massively talented Spanish and Spain-based composers that includes Fernando Velázquez, Federico Jusid, Víctor Reyes and Arnau Bataller, Nuno Malo – like his aforementioned contemporaries – clearly has the aptitude and compositional acumen to become a major composer over the next few years, if directors and producers would remove themselves from their Hollywood comfort zone and hire him for their movies. In No God No Master, Nuno Malo actually achieves that ideal that all film composers should strive to attain; he makes his film better than it would have been, had his score not been there, and for that reason alone he deserves his shot at the big time.

Buy the No God No Master soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Opening Titles (3:03)
  • Bike Ride Through Little Italy (:51)
  • Bomb in the Church (2:20)
  • Post Office Package Bombs (1:14)
  • Rockefeller Confrontation (1:59)
  • Explosion at Louise Berger’s (1:11)
  • Flynn Talks With Tresca (2:27)
  • Tresca’s Speech (2:20)
  • Vanzetti’s Past (1:25)
  • Vanzetti Finds a New Home (2:28)
  • Another Bomb/Vanzetti’s Theme (1:20)
  • Three Friends/Bomb at Flynn’s Doorstep (1:58)
  • Sacco’s Dream (1:12)
  • Flynn’s Partner Death (1:46)
  • Interrogation at Luigi’s Place (5:27)
  • Flynn Interrogates C. Howe (1:30)
  • Vanzetti Gives a Cat to the Little Boy (1:47)
  • Memorial/Police Attacks (2:02)
  • Rockefeller Confrontation (Cello Version) (1:50)
  • Flynn Talks to Palmer (1:10)
  • Flynn’s Search for Tony/Galleani’s Capture (7:57)
  • The 10,000 Immigrants Arrest (3:20)
  • Arm Robbery/Sacco and Vanzetti’s Arrest (2:37)
  • Catacomb of the Flower of Mankind (2:57)
  • What About the Others? (3:43)
  • Nulus Deus, Nulus Dominus/Main Theme Reprise (2:49)
  • No God No Master (Piano Trio) (2:50)

Running Time: 64 minutes 12 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-4219 (2014)

Music composed by Nuno Malo. Conducted by Géza Török. Orchestrations by Nuno Malo, Thomas Buric and Kostas Christides. Featured musical soloists Ivana Grubelic Malo, Yue Deng and Tina Guo. Recorded and mixed by Gábor Buczkó and Tommy Vicari. Edited by Luigi Pulcini. Album produced by Nuno Malo.

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