Best Scores of 2016 – Spain and Portugal
The sixth installment in my annual series of articles looking at the best “under the radar” scores from around the world concentrates on music from films from Spain and Portugal. I have long been of the opinion that, pound for pound, the best film music in the world is being written on the Iberian peninsula, and this year’s nine entries more than confirm that theory yet again.
1898: LOS ÚLTIMOS DE FILIPINAS – Roque Baños
1898: Los Últimos de Filipinas is a Spanish historical drama-action film directed by Salvador Calvo, set during the last days of Spanish colonial rule over the Philippines. Specifically, it charts the events surrounding the pivotal Siege of Baler, in which Filipino revolutionary insurgents, backed by the United States and President William McKinley, laid siege to a fortified church manned by colonial Spanish troops for 337 days, and which only ended when Spain signed the Treaty of Paris, ended the war, and formally ceded sovereignty over the Philippines to the United States.
The score for 1898: Los Últimos de Filipinas is by the great Roque Baños, who through this score – written for a film made in his homeland – recaptures the excellence and emotional resonance that first caught my attention in the first place, and which has been sadly missing from much of recent work within the Hollywood studio system. Here, Baños brings to life both the culture and the conflict of the incident through a score which blends powerful orchestral statements of heroism and dignity with sequences of tribal percussion and instrumental and vocal exotica, ensuring that the indigenous sound of the Filipino revolutionaries plays as much a part as the noble sacrifice of Captain Enrique de las Morenas and his men.
The first few moments of the opening cue, “La Masacre de Baler,” introduces the stirring, noble brass theme for the colonial Spanish troops, before quickly dissolving into a torrid-sounding sequence of strange huffed and puffed woodwinds, caterwauling vocals, danger-filled percussion, and mysterious twisted strings. The main theme reappears through several subsequent cues, including as an angelic choral variation at the beginning of the restrained “Donde Manda Dios No Manda Capitan,” in a militaristic version in “Atrincheramiento” replete with snare drum tattoos, and in the equally unsettling “Muerte de Tagala,” where the theme returns in its choral variation, but with less angelic beauty and more a sense of lamenting tragedy.
The threatening tribal sounds also continue to play an important part, reoccurring during the second half of “Donde Manda Dios No Manda Capitan,” and in subsequent cues such as “Desercion,” and the creepy and overwhelming “Opio,” which also makes great use of throat singers. Occasionally this music reminds me of James Horner and his scores for Apocalypto, or perhaps the more harsh action moments of Braveheart or Legends of the Fall, and has a similarly stark feeling of oppression and desolation. Cleverly, these sounds carry on throughout several of the vivid action sequences, which include as “Ataque Tagalo,” the harsh and dissonant “Ataque del Perro,” the exciting “Asalto al Pueblo,” and the harrowing “Vuelta a la Iglesia,” where it blends with more standard orchestrations to illustrate the escalating conflict between the two camps, as well as presenting further statements of the main theme.
A more hopeful and lyrical variation on the theme for swooning strings and the sound of sampled cicadas receives a longing, luscious statement in “Naranjas,” and Baños allows his orchestra to rise to emotional heights in the tragic “Ella Debe Morir,” and the stirring “Los Tontos de Baler,” before presenting a haunted, heightened version of the main theme in “Camino a Manila.” The final few cues contain several stirring re-statements of the main theme, during which Baños allows his orchestra to rise to real emotional heights. “Requiem a la Inocencia,” the Morricone-esque “Carta de Claudicacion,” and the lovely “Abandonan la Iglesia,” are especially superb in this regard.
All in all, this score represents a much-needed return to form for Roque Baños. During the 1990s and early 2000s he wrote many absolutely wonderful scores for Spanish films, but with the exception of his work on the Evil Dead remake in 2013, I have felt that he has been creatively stifled since he began working on more prominent Hollywood fare. It is only when he is given the freedom to write this sort of emotional, powerful music that he really shines, and it only appears to be the Spanish film industry that gives him that freedom. 1898: Los Últimos de Filipinas is an example of the type of music that made me fall in love with his work in the first place.
Track Listing: 1. La Masacre de Baler (6:02), 2. Donde Manda Dios No Manda Capitan (3:27), 3. Atrincheramiento (2:09), 4. Ataque Tagalo (4:10), 5. Desercion (3:05), 6. Opio (2:36), 7. Ataque del Perro (2:11), 8. Naranjas (2:34), 9. Muerte del Padre (2:35), 10. Ella Debe Morir (2:05), 11. Muerte de la Tagala (5:20), 12. Asalto al Pueblo (6:24), 13. Los Tontos de Baler (2:03), 14. Camino a Manila (3:05), 15. Vuelta a la Iglesia (4:45), 16. Requiem a la Inocencia (3:47), 17. Carta de Claudicacion (3:25), 18. Abandonan la Iglesia (5:27). Meliam Music, 65 minutes 10 seconds.
THE CHOSEN [EL ELEGIDO] – Arnau Bataller
The Chosen is a Spanish drama-thriller film written and directed by Antonio Chavarrías which looks at the events surrounding the 1940 assassination of Leon Trotsky, a former Bolshevik revolutionary and politician in the early years of Soviet Russia, who eventually turned against Stalin and was expelled from Russia in the 1920s. The film stars Henry Goodman as Trotsky, Alfonso Herrera as his eventual murderer Ramón Mercader, and Game of Thrones’s Hannah Murray as Trotsky’s confidante Sylvia Ageloff, and has a wonderfully bold orchestral score by composer Arnau Bataller.
Much of the score is quite dark, dwelling at the lower end of the register, led by cellos, basses, thudding pianos, and percussion, which are then overlaid by violin and viola harmonics and guitar textures that weave a spell of sinister subterfuge; cues like “Spying” and “Waiting” are impressive in this regard. A spindly little theme of sorts emerges out of the opening cue, “The Chosen,” becomes a lovely duet for piano and woodwinds in the subsequent cue, “Training,” and continues throughout much of the rest of the score. The solo cello variation on the theme in “Nobody Knows You” drips with murky emotion, hinting at the tragedy to come. This darkness, clearly, is intended to depict Trotsky’s increasingly dangerous relationship with his Soviet masters, and his exile to Mexico where he would meet his fate, and Bataller succeeds in capturing the musical essence of this shadowy world of shady politics.
The operatic aria that emerges towards the end of “Training,” and which returns later in “The End,” is quite magnificent, while the love theme for Trotsky and Ageloff in “Sylvia” is tender and intimate. “Brooklyn” and “Jacques Monard” are lighter, prettier pieces which restate the main theme for strings, piano, and flute, and are full of hope and optimism, albeit a little tempered with some occasional uncertainty that comes via more sinister string chords down in the mix. This simultaneous conveyance of conflicting emotions is something that Bataller has always done well, going back to La Herencia Valdemar in 2010, and he continues his excellent track record here.
Some more action-packed music arrives via cues like “Arresting Communists” and “Attacking the House,” during which Bataller increases the tempo, and the brass and percussion content significantly. The pivotal trio of scenes that underscores Trotsky’s actual assassination, from “The Killing” through “Reactions” and “He Did It,” are brutal and full of desperation, building slowly out of doom-laden string and piano textures, becoming more and more dissonant and broken as they progress, with agitated string writing and frantic piano clusters, before eventually concluding with a dour variation on the main theme for grim pianos. I have to admit I’m a little disappointed Bataller wasn’t able to somehow incorporate the sound of an ice pick into his percussion section (history buffs will know why).
The conclusive 6-minute “The Chosen Suite” is a magnificent summation of the score’s main themes, performed at their most passionate and poignant, including several variations on the central theme, a brief burst of operatic majesty from the vocalist, and some intricate and impressive brooding chords that really capture the essence of the score. The commercial soundtrack, on the Spanish label Saimel, contains just under an hour’s worth of music, and is recommended for those who enjoy music that dwells in the darker corners, offering intrigue and suspense through intelligent orchestral lines. It also continues to affirm that, off the back of scores like La Herencia Valdemar, Héroes, Ermessenda, La Sombra Prohibida, and La Hermandad, Arnau Bataller is currently Spain’s finest proponent of beautifully moody orchestral film music.
Track Listing: 1. The Chosen (3:56), 2. Training (2:50), 3. Under My Orders (2:11), 4. Brooklyn (2:38), 5. Jaques Monard (1:34), 6. Spying (3:14), 7. Waiting (3:32), 8. Sylvia (1:36), 9. Arresting Communists (3:07), 10. Attacking the House (2:02), 11. I’m Proud of You (2:57), 12. They Come From Spain (2:42), 13. Nobody Knows You (3:11), 14. The Killing (3:55), 15. Reactions (3:48), 16. He Did It (4:18), 17. The End (2:48), 18. The Chosen Suite (6:22). Saimel Records 3998980, 56 minutes 40 seconds.
LA CORONA PARTIDA – Federico Jusid
La Corona Partida is a Spanish language historical drama film directed by Jordi Frates, which acts as a one-off cinematic ‘link’ between the end of season 3 of the TV series Isabel, and season 1 of its sequel Carlos Rey Emperador. It stars Irene Escolar, Raúl Mérida, Rodolfo Sancho and José Coronado, and looks at events following the death of Queen Isabel in 1504, specifically the fight for power between her daughter Juana, and her sons Ferdinand and Philip, to take control of throne of Castile.
The score for La Corona Partida is, as one would expect, by Argentine composer Federico Jusid, whose scores for the combined four seasons of Isabel and Carlos Rey Emperador stand as some of the best television music written anywhere in the world during the past five years. While La Corona Partida doesn’t contain quite as many moments of spectacular thematic beauty as its predecessors, there is still a heck of a lot to be admired in Jusid’s interesting orchestral ideas, his creative use of more ancient-sounding instrumental solos, and his interweaving of a small number of new themes with his outstanding themes from the TV shows.
The entire score is performed by a large traditional orchestral ensemble, and is enlivened regularly by a number of appropriate ancient-sounding instrumental textures, ranging from the exotic viola da gamba to harpsichords, pipes and whistles, Middle Eastern woodwinds, and more. A recurring 2-note theme, accompanied by various flurries of orchestral grandeur, follows the three main protagonists through the story, and weaves its way through virtually the entire score; sometimes it’s grand and prominent, while at other times it is subtle and almost sinister, hinting at the machinations in play behind these important seats of power.
The rhythmic undercurrent of the opening “We Need Cisneros” is bombastic and dramatic. “Belmonte Brings News to Flanders” has a wonderful, dancing flute motif sitting on top of urgent, thrusting strings. “King of Castile” uses throbbing timpanis to create a sense of turbulent chaos. The strings whoop and surge against heaving percussion and brass clusters in “Philip Confines Juana”. The brass swells with festive pageantry to herald the entrance of “Emperor Maximilian” of the Hapsburg-controlled Holy Roman Empire into Juana’s life. The brief statement of the main theme from Isabel in “Maximilian and Juana” is a lovely reminder of all the great things that score had to offer, before it explodes into a sequence of choral majesty that is just astonishing in its beauty and power.
Later, “Ferdinand Travels to Meet Philip” adds strident Latin chanted vocals to tumultuous drumbeats and militaristic horn phrases, while “The Negotiations” sees frantic, chaotic string writing performed in counterpoint with equally frantic church organs and bells. “Philip’s Funeral Cortege” is appropriately dark and solemn, with some deliciously rich cello writing and associated choral accents. “Juana Custodies Philip’s Body” has some very unusual woodwind phrasing which gives way to more appropriately rich and moody string writing and, eventually, a cut-glass soprano solo that is staggeringly gorgeous. The conclusive “Ferdinand Confines Juana to Tordesillas” is painfully tragic, and ends the score on an appropriately melodramatic, but somewhat downbeat note.
Unfortunately the score for La Corona Partida is not available for commercial purchase at this time – just a promo provided by Jusid for promotional and award consideration – but hopefully one of the European specialist record labels will release it commercially in the near future. La Corona Partida, like its small-screen predecessors, is a masterpiece work by Federico Jusid, who with each passing year just impresses me more and more with his technical excellence, emotional sensitivity, and stubborn refusal to write anything which is not powerful, beautiful, or both.
Track Listing: 1. We Need Cisneros (1:08), 2. Belmonte Brings News to Flanders (1:11), 3. King of Castile (2:15), 4. Philip Confines Juana (2:26), 5. Emperor Maximilian (2:58), 6. Ferdinand and Cisneros (2:26), 7. Maximilian and Juana (2:31), 8. Wedding Night Preparation (1:49), 9. Cisneros Travels to Meet Philip (1:16), 10. Our Children Will Inherit Aragon’s Crown (0:48), 11. Ferdinand Travels to Meet Phillip (1:42), 12. The Negotiations (3:16), 13. Philip and Juana Enter Valladolid (1:18), 14. Ferdinand’s Betrayal (2:23), 15. Philip Provokes Juana’s Madness (1:44), 16. Philip’s Deathbed (1:18), 17. The Future of Castile (2:11), 18. Philip’s Funeral Cortege (2:10), 19. Juana Custodies Philip’s Body (5:28), 20. Ferdinand Confines Juana to Tordesillas (2:43). Promo, 43 minutes 10 seconds.
EL FARO DE LAS ORCAS – Pascal Gaigne
El Faro de las Orcas is a Spanish drama directed by Gerardo Olivares, starring Maribel Verdú, Joaquín Furriel, and Joaquín Rapalini Olivella. It tells the story of a young mother, Lola, who travels to Patagonia in Argentina to meet with a world renowned expert on killer whales; her son, Tristán, is autistic, but has shown significant signs of improvement after watching footage of the animals on television. The film is a moving examination of the lengths to which parents will go to help their children, and has an appropriately inspiring score by composer Pascal Gaigne.
Gaigne, who has never been one to drown his films in maudlin sentimentality, responded to the narrative’s themes with what has been described as ‘a kind of romantic and impressionist color, with delicate orchestration and a beautiful, flowing leitmotif that unfolds slowly throughout the entire score’. The music is performed by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Hernando, and has hints of both Thomas Newman and Alexandre Desplat to it, in that it uses many of Desplat’s favored plucked metallic ideas in the orchestration, but wraps them around several Newmanesque chords for soft, shimmering strings and lovely oboes. The opening cue, “Amanecer en Patagonia,” is a perfect example of this style, and sets the score up to succeed.
Orchestration is key throughout much of Gaigne’s score, as he uses different colors and textures to illustrate different emotions throughout: warm pianos coupled with slightly clunky-sounding metallic ideas in “Tristán,” plucked harp, accordion, and piano offset by the orchestra in the beautiful “El Faro de las Orcas,” a lyrical piano and violin duet in “Buen Día,” more abstract and glassy textures in the haunting “Visión Nocturna,” and so on. The majority of the score unfolds in this way, having an inviting, soothing, calming atmosphere, clearly depicting the unending depth of the love Lola has for her son.
Cues such as “Agarraros,” “Atacan,” and the vibrant “Volar Solo” add some brief hints of action music with more flamboyant string writing and insistent, rhythmic percussion ostinatos, but these are very much the exception rather than the rule, and for the most part Gaigne continues with the predominant style. As the score moves through its second half, several other cues stand out: the playful, inviting “Chaka y Beto” is just sublime; the magical “Primer Contacto” almost has a hint of jazz in the way the instruments combine; the friendly and open “Jugando con Chaka” has a sense of gentle fun and warmth, like the first rays of sun on your face in the morning. Similarly, the various variations of the main “El Faro de las Orcas” are just divine, ranging from the balletic Philippe Rombi-style version in “Que Maravilla,” to the more downbeat and introverted version in “Desperatar,” and the lush and emotional “Créditos”.
Pascal Gaigne has impressed me on multiple occasions since I first became aware of his music around 5 years ago, and with each successive year he has proven to be a composer of great skill and versatility who can move from genre to genre with ease. El Faro de las Orcas might be the most conventionally lovely score he has written in quite some time. Although it generally maintains a consistent tone throughout – which some with less patience may find a little sleepy and samey – I personally found it to be a warm, big-hearted celebration of parental love and sacrifice.
Track Listing: 1. Amanecer en Patagonia (2:35), 2. Tristán (1:12), 3. Desde Lejos (0:59), 4. El Faro de las Orcas (2:13), 5. Volver a Casa (1:31), 6. Agarraros! (0:28), 7. Una Cometa (0:28), 8. Buen Día (1:27), 9. Atacan!!! (2:34), 10. Visión Nocturna (2:30), 11. Chaka y Beto (2:32), 12. Primer Contacto (2:32), 13. El Faro de las Orcas Que Maravilla!) (2:33), 14. Tristán Ordenando (2:29), 15. Abrazo (0:51), 16. Jugando con Chaka (2:05) 17. El Faro de la Orcas (2:33), 18. Volar Solo (6:04), 19. Perdido en la Playa (1:42), 20. Las Orcas Son Mi Vida (1:58), 21. El Faro de las Orcas (Despertar) (3:32), 22. Historia de Lola (2:14), 23. Tristán y Raquel (1:30), 24. Frente al Mar (2:30), 25. El Faro de las Orcas (Créditos) (3:21), 26. El Faro de las Orcas (Piano Version) (2:40). Quartet Records QR-261, 56 minutes 42 seconds.
GERNIKA – Fernando Velázquez
Gernika is a historical romance set against the backdrop of the 1937 Spanish Civil War, in which a bitter and cynical American journalist (James d’Arcy) covering the conflict falls in love with a member of Franco’s propaganda bureau (María Valverde), despite the fact that she is trying to censor the truth about the war that he is trying to convey to the world. Things come to a head when Adolf Hitler, in support of Franco’s oppressive regime, orders his troops to attack and obliterate the Basque city of Guernica from the air, in what was essentially an “experiment” for the blitzkrieg tactics that would be used in World War II a few years later. The film is directed by Koldo Serra, and has an astonishingly powerful score by Spanish composer Fernando Velázquez, performed by the Budapest Orchestra and Chorus.
Don’t be put off by the opening cue, “Propaganda,” a superb piece of old fashioned newsreel scoring, digitally aged to make it sound like a 1930s recording, because once the score begins, , Velázquez’s score quickly establishes itself as being full of epic symphonic grandeur, with a bright, romantic love theme and several moments of exciting action music.
Several cues during the score proper stand out. “Teresa” is a romantic, but slightly melancholy theme for rolling pianos and poignant string and woodwind combo chords. “Back from the Front” has a haunted, ghostly choral element that speaks of the horrors of war. “Bilbao” introduces the score’s lush, beautiful love theme, which is then elaborated on later during “The Consul and Nikolai,” and in the second half of “My Hiding Place/Teresa,” among others. “Press Office Tour” and “The Watermill” are string laments that further expand on the terrible tragedies suffered by the Basque people under Franco. “Reception at City Hall” is an opulent waltz which brings a much-needed touch of lightness to the otherwise weighty proceedings. To offer a slight criticism, the middle section of the album does drag a little under the burden of its solemn, respectful tone, with several cues bleeding into one another with very little delineation.
However, all this is small potatoes, and pales into insignificance next to “Gernika Under the Bombs,” a 25-minute tour-de-force piece for orchestra and choir which accompanies the film’s final sequence of the actual bombing of the city. Amazingly, it is entirely through-composed as a single piece of music; virtually no-one has attempted huge orchestral music on this scale in years, at least since James Horner was writing 15 and 18-minute cues for things like Willow and Enemy at the Gates. In this masterpiece cue, Velázquez presents all the main thematic material from earlier in the score, but dresses it up with moments of tension and dread (some of which reminds me of Jaws, of all things!), dark trembling brass, whispery woodwinds, and sequences of somber choral writing and unbearable apprehension, which combine with groaning dissonances heralding the bombs themselves bringing death from above. During the final few minutes of the cue Velázquez unleashes his main theme at its most powerful and emotional, providing a fitting testament to one of Spain’s forgotten wartime tragedies.
Gernika, which was the third of Velázquez’s six scores in 2016, will appeal to anyone with an ear for sincere, earnest wartime drama scores, and “Gernika Under the Bombs” is one of the greatest single musical achievements in all of 2016. I could unhesitatingly recommend Quartet’s release for that reason alone, but the rest of the score is impressive too, and yet again affirms just what a wonderfully talented composer Fernando Velázquez is.
Track Listing: 1. Propaganda (1:40), 2. Teresa/Press Office (2:05), 3. I’ve Seen War (1:18), 4. Back From the Front/The Picture (4:02), 5. Bilbao (0:41), 6. Absolute Perfection (1:33), 7. Press Office Tour (1:35), 8. The Consul and Nikolai (4:44), 9. The Real Truth Is On Her Face (1:47), 10. Gernika Streets (1:04), 11. Soon There Will Be No Tomorrow For Them (1:01), 12. The Watermill (0:52), 13. Teresa’s Family Farmhouse (1:54), 14. It Makes Me Angry To Have To Do Work, Mikiavich (3:08), 15. Teresa’s Father (2:42), 16. The Article (Henry is Back) (1:43), 17. Thermite! (0:27), 18. Meet Me By The Teacher (2:36), 19. Reception at City Hall (1:26), 20. My Hiding Place/Teresa (5:21), 21. The Stolen Stamp (2:56), 22. Where’s Teresa? (1:53), 23. Stalin Doesn’t Forgive Mikiavich/Alles Gut Sein (2:07), 24. Gernika Under The Bombs (24:56), 25. End Credits (1:18). Quartet Records QR-248, 75 minutes 02 seconds.
O LEÃO DA ESTRELA – Nuno Malo
O Leão da Estrela is a massively popular Portuguese comedy film, a remake of the 1947 film of the same name which is one of the most beloved Portuguese movies of all time. Directed by Leonel Vieira, the plot follows a man named Anastácio (Miguel Guilherme), who lives in Lisbon and is an avid fanatic of Sporting, one of the city’s main football teams. Anastácio is down on his luck, but somehow manages to secure tickets for a game, with Sporting travelling to face Porto, one of their major rivals. Anastácio takes his family on the trip, and stays in the house of his old friend, Barata (José Raposo), a successful businessman. What follows is a social comedy of errors, stemming from a simple lie that Anastácio tells to impress his friend: he pretends to be rich.
The score for O Leão da Estrela is by composer Nuno Malo, who at this point is probably the most successful contemporary Portuguese film composer in the world. Malo’s score is a combination of 1940’s-style classic caper music with hints of jazz, combined with influences from traditional Portuguese folk music, and some contemporary dramatic scoring for strings and piano to accompany the more emotional scenes of family interaction. The opening “O Leão da Estrela” introduces the main theme and makes use of Fado-style voices for dramatic effect, but the majority of the music is comedic in nature, clearly establishing Anastácio as a bumbling, shambling sad-sack of a man, bouncing from one misunderstanding to another.
Most performances of the main theme are sprightly, bouncy pieces which vacillate between arrangements for upbeat classical Portuguese guitars, and muted trumpets that have a touch of hang-dog world-weariness. Several cues, including “IRS Financas,” “O Escritorio,” “Introducao dos Betinhos,” “Mais Bebidas/The Villa,” and “Explosão no Jantar” feature the theme prominently, before the fado vocals finally come back in “Casa de Banho”. Jazzy interludes featuring Hammond organs, guitars, and cool pianos enliven cues such as “Ai Ai/Rosa Apanhada,” “Comandante,” “Reunião de Familia/Obama e Brad Pitt,” and “Bon Voyage,” and have a hint of Christopher Young’s jazz scores to them. The music does tend to get a little repetitious during the middle section, and the constant tone of silly comedy may grate on some people, but class struggle Euro comedies have been scored like this for decades, and Malo is in good company writing music like this.
The string-based emotional scoring makes its presence felt in cues such as the warmly inviting “Reconcilio no Pontão” and the soothing “Divanei e Fotos da Estrela,” while the slightly more contemporary guitar-led love theme features prominently in “Tema de Amor/Quarto do Betinho/Conversa Sobre Maridos” and “Love Theme – Romance na Villa”. In the final cue, “Generico de Fim de Serie,” Malo takes his main theme and runs it through several permutations, including an especially excellent sequence where the whole thing is underpinned by frantic string runs.
Unfortunately the score for O Leão da Estrela is not available for commercial purchase at this time – just a promo which Malo provided for promotional and awards consideration purposes – but anyone who gets the chance to hear it should do so without hesitation. Compared to some of his more bold dramatic and works like Amália, Miel de Naranjas, or No God No Master, this score is something of a lightweight, but it nevertheless further enhances Malo’s reputation as being a composer who can turn his hand to any genre he chooses, and be successful in the process.
Track Listing: 1. O Leão da Estrela (0:49), 2. Taxi (0:42), 3. IRS Financas (0:49), 4. O Escritorio (1:22), 5. Correria Para Comprar o Bilhete (0:28), 6. Em Bicha/Presidente/Bilhete (3:03), 7. História da Treta do Acidente (1:21), 8. Ai Ai/Rosa Apanhada (2:35), 9. Cozinha (0:26), 10. Comandante (1:06), 11. Reunião de Familia/Obama e Brad Pitt (5:13), 12. Reconcilio no Pontão (3:44), 13. Bon Voyage (2:31), 14. Chegada ao Clube de Futebol (0:48), 15. Introducao dos Betinhos (1:52), 16. Maes Falam Na Sala/Rosa Criada (2:02), 17. Tema de Amor/Quarto do Betinho/Conversa Sobre Maridos (2:22), 18. Divanei e Fotos da Estrela (2:01), 19. Mais Bebidas/The Villa (4:05), 20. Pedido de Casamento (2:51), 21. Regresso a Casa do Betinho/Morte do Peixe (1:13), 22. Explosão no Jantar (2:37), 23. Love Theme – Romance na Villa (4:43), 24. Betinho Fala com Pai da Estrela (3:01), 25. Casa de Banho (1:07), 26. Comandante Chega a Casa (1:37), 27. Generico de Fim de Serie (2:14). Promo, 56 minutes 55 seconds.
A MONSTER CALLS – Fernando Velázquez
A Monster Calls is an English-language children’s fantasy film from Spain, directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, based on the bestselling and acclaimed book by Patrick Ness. The film stars Lewis MacDougall as Conor, a young boy coping with the terminal illness of his mother (Felicity Jones). Unable to properly express his emotions, his anger and his frustration, while simultaneously coping with bullies at school and an un-sympathetic grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), Conor conjures up a tree monster (Liam Neeson) to help him deal with his issues, and together the pair embarks on a series of fantastical adventures.
The score for A Monster Calls is by Bayona’s regular musical collaborator, Fernando Velázquez, conducting the prestigious Basque Symphony Orchestra and the Orfeón Donostiarra choir. This is the third collaboration between Bayona and Velázquez after The Orphanage in 2007, and The Impossible in 2012, and A Monster Calls makes it three-for-three in terms of outstanding music. The album’s press material describes the score as ‘music which encompasses tenderness, sadness and nostalgia, with dramatic passages and soaring climaxes, including powerful percussive passages – masterfully orchestrated and full of delicate nuances’. Velázquez has never been a composer shy about wearing his heart on his sleeve, and that is certainly the case here; A Monster Calls is a score overflowing with a multitude of emotions, all expertly evoked through Velázquez’s deft musical touch.
After a few moments of impressionistic buildup the opening cue, “Conor Wakes Up/Main Title”, introduces a series of delicate performances of the main theme, first on flute, then on piano, over a bed of swirling, dramatic strings. The orchestration in this cue – and throughout the score – is just superb, as the top line melodies move around different sections of the ensemble, while the rhythmic undercurrent does the same in the opposite direction. It’s all quite superb. Further performances of the theme in the beautiful and majestic “The First Tale,” the innocent “Home Alone/Dad Arrives,” and the heartbreakingly poignant “I Wish I Had a Hundred Years,” place Conor at the very heart of the score, ensuring that everything revolves around him, his point of view, and his way of seeing the world.
Moments of all-out horror are rare, but “The Monster Wakes Up” and “Break Things” are two such superb efforts, blending all manner of orchestral and choral histrionics and dissonant collisions of noise to accompany the terrifying first appearance of Conor’s immense wooden friend, and his subsequent incitement of wanton vandalism. Equally horrific, in a different way, are the cues which deal with Conor’s encounters with school bullies; “The School” is morose, and introverted, and just wants to get away. These stylistics continue, tempered, into several thrusting, animalistic action cues, notably “The Second Encounters,” and “Grandma’s Clock/The Second Tale,” with its Gothic church organ and surging voices.
These choral accents are used multifariously, giving cues like “Drawing” a real gravitas and a hint of danger, while later giving “Big Dreams” a sense of almost angelic tranquility. Similarly, the equally frequent harp glissandi that crop up throughout the score add a touch of magic, as well as some pleasing echoes of John Williams and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. By the time the score reaches its conclusion in “The Truth” and the “End Credits” Velázquez is wringing every possible ounce of emotion from his orchestra, and is doing the same to his audience. The statements of the theme in that final cue sometimes reach similar levels of emotion as those heard in The Impossible from 2012.
The album on Quartet Records features an original song, “Tear Up This Town,” written and performed by the British rock group Keane, which is actually very good, but this is all about the score. Fernando Velázquez has not just been one of Spain’s, but one of all film music’s brightest young talents for many years now, and A Monster Calls is yet another affirmation of why.
Track Listing: 1. Tear Up This Town (performed by Keane) (3:13), 2. Conor Wakes Up/Main Title (4:11), 3. Drawing (1:22), 4. The Monster Wakes Up (3:22), 5. Crisis (1:01), 6. The Second Encounter (2:13), 7. The First Tale (7:30), 8. The School (3:21), 9. Home Alone/Dad Arrives (2:48), 10. Grandma´s Clock/The Second Tale (8:13), 11. Break Things (1:03), 12. A World Destroyed (1:05), 13. Big Dreams (1:37), 14. A New Hope/Dad Leaves (2:30), 15. Montage (4:37), 16. The Third Tale (2:43), 17. I Wish I Had a Hundred Years (2:11), 18. The Truth (5:02), 19. End Credits (5:09), 20. Montage (spoken by Felicity Jones) (4:37), 21. Tear Up This Town (Film Version) (performed by Keane) (3:09). Quartet Records QR-251, 71 minutes 04 seconds.
THE OLIVE TREE [EL OLIVO] – Pascal Gaigne
The Olive Tree is a Spanish family drama film directed by Icíar Bollaín, starring Anna Castillo as Alma, a young woman whose beloved grandfather has not spoken since her father sold their family’s olive tree – the original tree from which all the other olive trees on their land grew – against the grandfather’s wishes, a decision which split the family apart. In order to re-unite her family, and heal the multi-generational rifts and wounds, Alma makes the decision to find the tree – which has been moved to another location elsewhere in Europe – and bring it back to her ancestral home.
The score for The Olive Tree is by the French composer Pascal Gaigne, who responded to the film by writing an emotional, sensitive score performed by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra with special emphasis on piano, strings, and accordion. The soundtrack is presented as a 5-movement suite, and the whole thing is just gorgeous – sunny, luscious, full of energy and movement, with a positive, good-humored attitude that is difficult to resist. Technically the score is minimalist, in that the core ideas of the score are restricted to just a small number of instruments and rhythmic ideas, and one main recurring theme heard as a flurry of piano notes, but this does not stop it from impressing with its quality.
Throughout each of the five suites, pizzicato strings dance around elegant, virtuoso piano scales and sprightly woodwind figures in a manner reminiscent of Alexandre Desplat at his very best. Accordions and guitars interject to add a sense of regional color and geographic flavor. The lyrical string theme that emerges two minutes into “Part 2” is just gorgeous. Slightly more abstract textures, enlivened by synth notes, a solo violin element, and a slower tempo, gives the final few minutes of “Part 3” a bittersweet tone, and it gets even darker and more drone-like during the first moments of “Part 4”.
If there’s one drawback to the score in any way, it’s that it does tend to be rather repetitive: it is, in essence, 20 minutes of variations on the exact same style of music with very little variation. As such, while the music is outstanding in and of itself, the lack of any sort of dramatic development across the core sound may cause some listeners to become a little bored with it, especially if they don’t connect with it straight away. Personally, however, I was enraptured by the whole thing from start to finish, and found Gaigne’s cheerful and playful ode to family life entertaining from the first note to the last.
Taking into account the fact that The Olive Tree is a short score, running just 23 minutes, the soundtrack album from Quartet Records includes as a bonus some selection of the previous works Gaigne wrote for director Icíar Bollaín, including the 2012 drama Katmandú, Un Espejo en el Cielo, the 2014 documentary En Tierra Extraña, and the previously unreleased score for Flores de Otro Mundo from 1999.
Track Listing: 1. El Olivo Part 1 (7:47), 2. El Olivo Part 2 (4:01), 3. El Olivo Part 3 (3:54), 4. El Olivo Part 4 (4:03), 5. El Olivo Part 5 (3:06). Quartet Records QR-232, 23 minutes 02 seconds.
ZIPI Y ZAPE Y LA ISLA DEL CAPITÁN – Fernando Velázquez
Zipi y Zape y la Isla del Capitán – Zip & Zap and the Captain’s Island – is a Spanish adventure film for children based on the popular and long-running comic strip, directed by Oskar Santos, and is a sequel to the 2013 film Zipi y Zape y el Club de la Canica (Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang). In this new adventure the mischievous twins Zip and Zap are forced to accompany their parents on a business trip to a distant island but, after being lost in a terrifying storm, they instead find themselves in an enormous Victorian mansion/children’s home run by the friendly but eccentric Miss Pam. Before long, Zip and Zap are uncovering hidden mysteries about Miss Pam, and will have to work together to uncover the truth.
As was the case with the first film, the score for Zipi y Zape y la Isla del Capitán is by composer Fernando Velázquez, performed by the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Much like the score for the first Zip & Zap film, Velázquez’s work here is absolutely wonderful, a rousing, adventurous tour-de-force that overflows with themes, motifs, and bombastic heroism. The main Zip & Zap theme from the first movie makes a welcome return, underpinning several cues with its unabashed sense of fun and tomfoolery.
A new swashbuckling theme for swaggering brass and tapped percussion is introduced at the beginning of “Zipi y Zape y la Isla del Capitán,” and has hints of both John Williams’s Superman and John Debney’s Cutthroat Island, if that gives you any idea of its scope. The Capitán theme appears regularly throughout the score, in cues such as the majestic choral variation “La Isla del Capitán,” “La Huida,” the sweeping “El Bosque,” the exciting “Ya Tenemos Brújula,” the energetic “La Llave,” and the big conclusive action cue, “Hasta Siempre, Amigos Míos”.
A sweeping, romantic secondary theme is also introduced in the opening cue’s second half, a longing piece full of sentimental Hollywood strings and beautiful, searching progressions, and it reappears during several subsequent cues, most notably the gorgeous choral finale “Gracias Por Cuidarnos”. A more mysterious, eerie woodwind theme for “Señorita Pam” is introduced in the cue of that name, and makes further appearances in cues such as “La Colección de Pam,” which broods with Gothic sinister intent, and “El Cuento de Capitán,” which has the gentleness of a lullaby.
When not presenting elaborate statements of his main themes, Velázquez offers some wonderful melodic vignettes, from sweet Christmassy caper music in “Feliz Navidad, Hermanito,” to Herrmannesque suspense featuring a theremin in “El Fantasma,” dramatic revelation in “Bienvenidos al Hogar de la Infancia, Niños,” thunderous percussion-heavy action in “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” the emotional and longing “Yo Nunca Quise Crecer,” and much more besides. There’s so much to admire all over this score it’s hard to know what to recommend without simply listing every cue.
It’s quite likely that there are a number of additional themes I’m failing to identify due to my unfamiliarity with the film itself; suffice to say, Velázquez’s score is absolutely teeming with them. The whole thing is quite wonderful, and just goes to prove once again just want an outstanding melodic composer Fernando Velázquez is. Had he been old enough to have been writing this sort of music in the 1980s and 1990s, I absolutely guarantee he would have scored many of our childhood favorite movies, and his themes would be classics; as it is, we’ll just have to be satisfied that he’s able to write this kind of rich, detailed orchestral music for Spanish children’s films, if nowhere else.
Track Listing: 1. Zipi y Zape y la Isla del Capitán (4:20), 2. Feliz Navidad, Hermanito (2:08), 3. La Isla del Capitán (2:46), 4. Señorita Pam (2:13), 5. El Fantasma (3:16), 6. Niño, Por Qué Lloras? (1:52), 7. Yo Soy Pipi (1:55), 8. Bienvenidos al Hogar de la Infancia, Niños (2:35), 9. Rock ’n’ Roll (3:48), 10. Maldito Mono Ladrón (2:19), 11. El Bazar de Salomón (3:40), 12. La Huida (1:29), 13. El Bosque (1:20), 14. Papá y Mamá no Necesitan Que Nadie Les Arrope (2:07), 15. Ya Tenemos Brújula (2:46), 16. La Colección de Pam (3:07), 17. Sodinevneib, Amigos Míos! (2:28), 18. El Cuento del Capitán (4:01), 19. Huiréis En Mi Nave (1:09), 20. La Llave (2:36), 21. Qué Voy a Hacer Contigo, Padre? (2:11), 22. Yo Nunca Quise Crecer (3:31), 23. Esto No Es Un Ascensor (2:25), 24. Hasta Siempre, Amigos Míos (5:01), 25. La Bola de Cristal (2:55), 26. Gracias Por Cuidarnos (6:12), 27. Canción de los Niños Perdidos (2:04). Quartet Records QR-244, 79 minutes 45 seconds.