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Best Scores of 2017 – Spain

January 15, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments

The fifth installment in my annual series of articles looking at the best “under the radar” scores from around the world sees us in one of my favorite film music countries, Spain. I have long been a vocal promoter Spanish film music which, over last ten years or so, has become a soundtrack powerhouse filled with composers who – in terms of the number of excellent scores per film – are probably writing the highest quality film music in the world. 2017 was no exception, with dozens of excellent scores emerging from the country during the calendar year. This article contains the scores which, in my opinion, are the eight best, which encompass both film and television, span multiple genres, and are written both by familiar favorites and exciting newcomers.

EL GUARDIÁN INVISIBLE – Fernando Velázquez

El Guardián Invisible [The Invisible Ghosts] is a Spanish supernatural thriller directed by Fernando González Molina, based on the eponymous novel by Dolores Redondo. The film stars Marta Etura as Amaia Salazar, a police detective who is sent to investigate the case of a vicious serial killer in her home town, who during her investigation uncovers some long-buried secrets from her own family’s past.

The score for El Guardián Invisible is by Fernando Velázquez, who has been excelling in the Gothic orchestral drama-horror-thriller genres of late, off the back of scores like Crimson Peak and A Monster Calls. Here, he provides an intense, exciting and highly vigorous score performed by the Navarre Symphony Orchestra. The score is anchored around a haunting main theme that appears prominently in the first cue, “Viaje a Elizondo,” and in several others thereafter – there are especially notable statements in the gorgeous first half of “Ir al Origen,” and in the staggeringly emotional and soaring “Amaia y su Madre,” when the choral writing sometimes reminds me of James Newton Howard at his best.

The rest of the score is thick with rich orchestral colors, dark and lyrical, as well as some more intense rhythmic ideas in the action and suspense sequences. There’s a brooding and sinister piano melody accompanied by high strings in “Ha Desaparecido Otra Niña,” a ghostly choir in “Otro Hallazgo Junto al Río”, and some especially lovely writing for reflective, solemn-sounding woodwinds and strings in “La Historia de Basajaun.” Meanwhile, cues like “Los Recuerdos de Amaia” and “Hallazgos Macabros” tend to be a little more abstract and dissonant, filled with aggressive and challenging orchestral textures that emphasize the supernatural and more horrific elements of the story.

There are some bursts of action-chase music in cues like “El Secreto de Freddy,” during the second half of “Ir al Origen,” and in “Los Motivos del Asesino,” that are very effective especially for the use of a battery of what sound like tapped and fingered tomtoms in the percussion section. Elsewhere, in “La Lectura del Tarot,” Velázquez accompanies the throbbing orchestral writing with whispery, eerie vocal effects that are frightfully clever, and quite unnerving.

This is a deeply impressive score from Fernando Velázquez whose work in Spain continues to vastly outshine the slim pickings he has received from Hollywood. For some reason he seems to excel at writing for these morose stories, where he can cut through the darkness with music of great emotional intensity, creativity, and lyricism. The score is available on CD from the Spanish soundtrack label Quartet Records.

Track Listing: 1. Viaje a Elizondo (1:43), 2. Ha Desaparecido Otra Niña (2:18), 3. Los Recuerdos de Amaia (2:39), 4. Otro Hallazgo Junto al Río (5:07), 5. La Historia de Basajaun (6:34), 6. Investigación (2:11), 7. El Secreto de Freddy (3:16), 8. No Te Vayas Nunca (3:28), 9. Atando Cabos (4:09), 10. La Lectura del Tarot (2:38), 11. El Secreto de Montes (5:25), 12. Ir al Origen (5:18), 13. Amaia y su Madre (4:13), 14. Hallazgos Macabros (7:05), 15. Los Motivos del Asesino (3:19), 16. Algunas Explicaciones (6:01), 17. El Guardián Invisible (1:01). Quartet Records QR-272, 66 minutes 49 seconds.

 

EL JUGADOR DE AJEDREZ– Alejandro Vivas

El Jugador de Ajedrez [The Chess Player] is a Spanish drama directed by Luis Oliveras. The film stars Marc Clotet as Diego Padilla, a chess champion who, after winning the 1934 Spanish National Chess Championship, is forced to flee to Paris with his French girlfriend Marianne (Melina Matthews) due to the political situation in their country, specifically the imminent outbreak of the Spanish civil war. However, things are not much safer for Diego in France, because several years later Diego is accused by the French Nazi government authorities of being a spy for the resistance. The film was inspired by the real-life story of Russian chess player Alexander Alekhine, who suffered similar accusations of espionage during World War II.

The score for El Jugador de Ajedrez is by Spanish composer Alejandro Vivas. This is only Vivas’s second feature film, after La Conjura de El Escorial in 2008, but the music is impressive enough for him to clearly have a significant future ahead of him. The music, like that for most Spanish historical drama films, is fully orchestral, lush, and thematic, with special emphasis on strings and piano. The whole thing has a real sense of scope and drama, blending romance and emotion with moments of darkness with some occasional action music, as the story requires.

The score features numerous highlight cues. “Main Title” features a rapturous virtuoso piano element accompanied by sweeping, elegant strings. “Margeaux’s Birth” is tender and intimate, with an especially delightful flute solo. “A Walk in Paris” has a more dramatic sound, with stronger strings and a determined edge. The two “Chess Game” cues build on the ideas heard in the main title, with dancing piano lines accompanied by warm, inviting strings. “Desolation” and “The Gathering” are simply wonderful, a pair of haunting cello laments written with great sensitivity and depth of emotion.

Most of the rest of the second half of the score tends to remain in this emotional state – sadness, longing, occasional despair, conveyed by solo piano, solo violin, solo cello, and the string section – with cues such as “Visit to the Police Prefect,” “Writing Letters,” and “Trip to Bordeaux” feeling especially moving. Some more strident material music appears briefly in cues like the first half of “Interrogation and Jail,” “The General,” parts of “Reverie,” and the more exciting “Liberation,” which often feature a more intense and rapid percussion element to ramp up the tension and to add a militaristic edge to the score. There are also a couple of original jazz pieces, including “Dance in the Street” and “A Question of Love,” which are quite lovely, soft and mellow, and often written for strings, piano, and clarinet. The five-minute “Credits” provides an excellent summation of the score’s core ideas, performed with an appropriately bold sweep.

However, with the exception of the credits cue, the final 20 minutes or so does start to drag just a tiny bit for the listener, because although it is appropriate for the context of the story, it does wallow in misery for just a little too long, even though the misery is conveyed with woeful beauty. Despite this one issue, the score for El Jugador de Ajedrez is otherwise quite outstanding, and will undoubtedly appeal to fans of rich, emotional, classical orchestral scores that emphasize the sound of tragedy. The score is available on CD from the new Spanish label Rosetta Records.

Track Listing: 1. Main Title (1:52), 2. Dance in the Street (1:13), 3. Margeaux’s Birth (1:17), 4. A Walk in Paris (1:35), 5. Interrogation and Jail (2:42), 6. The General (2:59), 7. Chess Game I (1:06), 8. Desolation (2:33), 9. Uncertainty (1:37), 10. The Gathering (1:43), 11. The Arrest (1:46), 12. Visit to the Police Prefect (1:25), 13. Chess Game II (1:26), 14. Arrival of German Troops (2:01), 15. Writing Letters (1:25), 16. Reverie (2:03), 17. Liberation (2:30), 18. Trip to Bordeaux (1:46), 19. Love Theme (1:47), 20. Farewell (1:13), 21. Credits (3:48), 22. A Question of Love (1:13), 23. Remembering Paris (3:42), 24. In the Jungle (1:45), 25. Dance in the Street (Version Jazz) (0:37). Rosetta Records RRCD-02, 47 minutes 12 seconds.

 

MARROWBONE – Fernando Velázquez

Marrowbone – or El Secreto de Marrowbone – is an English-language horror/thriller from Spanish director Sergio Gutiérrez Sánchez. The film stars George Mackay as Jack, the eldest of five siblings, who have conspired for years to keep secret the death of their beloved mother so that they can remain together. However, a sinister ghostly presence has been haunting the sprawling manor house in which they live, forcing the family to confront the demons of their past while trying to stay alive in the present. The film co-stars The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy, Stranger Things’s Charlie Heaton, and A Cure for Wellness’s Mia Goth, and has an atmospheric original score by Spanish composer Fernando Velázquez.

Velázquez has a strong history in writing music for Gothic horror movies – one of the first scores which brought him to public attention was El Orfanato in 2007, and he subsequently wrote similar-sounding scores for films like Shiver, Mama, and Crimson Peak. Marrowbone is a score very much rooted in those same traditions: as the score’s publicity material states, it ‘encompasses the sound of Gothic terror, full-blooded romanticism, and lovely pastoral passages,’ as performed by the Asturias Symphony Orchestra.

The Gothic terror is palpable in cues like the exciting “We Have To Be Ready,” which uses tremolo strings in unexpected ways and sounds like what Aaron Copland might have written for a horror movie; the spooky “Porter” which again uses tremolo strings to create its tension; “The Ghost,” which revels in enormous brass stingers and tortured, groaning cellos; the two Chimney cues, which use abstract, scratchy string effects and extended performance techniques to elicit thrills from the audience; and “Padre” and “What Have You Done,“ both of which explode into gargantuan, brassy action. Some of the middle-album suspense cues do become a little repetitive and samey, coming across as little more than extended violin sustains with overlapping string contrapuntal textures, but the highlights more than make up for the downtime.

Meanwhile, the lovely pastoral passages are apparent in cues like “Once You Cross That Line” with its gentle harp waves and softly enticing woodwinds, “A Chance of Happiness” which features Silvestri-esque piano textures, “Mother’s Death” with its melancholy oboe writing and funereal strings, and “Jack” which showcases a gorgeous flute solo. However, as always, my favorite moments of scores like this are the moments of full-blooded romanticism, at which Velázquez excels. Cues like the lovely “Allie” and “Leave Us Alone” contain sequences of excellent string-led elegance and beauty, while the conclusive pair “Touch” and “Marrowbone” begin with deeply rendered cello solos and eventually grow to sweeping heights of orchestral grandeur.

In addition to the slightly draggy middle section, the other thing that hinders Marrowbone is its lack of a major thematic presence. There are themes, of course, most notably one for the family’s mother, but none of them leave a huge impression, which for some may render the score a tiny bit anonymous. But this is a minor criticism of a score which, in all other aspects, succeeds in delivering what it intends: creepy chills, exciting thrills, and rich moments of emotion and catharsis. Fernando Velázquez has been a master of this type of writing for more than a decade now, and long may it continue. The score is available on CD from the excellent Spanish soundtrack label Quartet Records.

Track Listing: 1. Our Story (0:47), 2. Once You Cross That Line (2:10), 3. A Chance of Happiness (2:18), 4. Mother’s Death (3:41), 5. Jack (1:30), 6. The Library/A Kiss (1:34), 7. We Have To Be Ready (5:30), 8. Porter (2:36), 9. Risk! (2:30), 10. Covering the Mirror (1:36), 11. How Well Do You Know Them? (1:08), 12. Allie (4:13), 13. Billy (2:54), 14. Sam (2:12), 15. The Ghost (1:28), 16. The Bricked Door (0:34), 17. The Past (0:58), 18. Jane Alone (2:00), 19. Down the Chimney (2:52), 20. Up the Chimney (3:50), 21. Meet Me At Skull Rock (5:06), 22. Father (1:07), 23. What Have You Done? (3:59), 24. Nothing. No One. Ever (1:54), 25. Leave Us Alone! (3:24), 26. Come Out Of There! (2:33), 27. Touch (1:30), 28. Marrowbone (4:14), 29. Faraway Place [BONUS] (1:48), 30. Up the Chimney [ALTERNATE] (0:50), 31. What Have You Done? [ALTERNATE] (1:17), 32. I’ll Keep You Safe – Lullaby [BONUS] (1:56). Quartet Records QR-294, 70 minutes 22 seconds.

 

PASAJE AL AMANECER – Diego Navarro

Pasaje al Amanecer [Passage to Dawn] is a Spanish drama film directed by Andreu Castro. It stars Nicolás Coronado as Javier, a young and ambitious photojournalist who decides to travel to Fallujah in Iraq to act as war correspondent, documenting the conflict there for a prestigious Spanish news magazine. However, before he leaves, he attends a Christmas meal with his family, and turmoil erupts in his personal life, forcing him to confront his past before he heads off into a potentially deadly war zone.

The score for Pasaje al Amanecer is by the great Spanish composer and conductor Diego Navarro. Many people will be familiar with Navarro’s work as an outstanding touring conductor of classic film music at festivals around the world – Ubeda, Krakow, Tenerife – but his work as a composer in his own right is just as outstanding, as previous scores like Mira la Luna, Óscar: Una Pasión Surrealista, Mimesis, and Atrapa la Bandera attest. Pasaje al Amanecer may be he his best work to date, though. It’s a rich, deep, emotional orchestral score full of gorgeous colors, moments of tender expression, and the outstanding thematic writing that the Spanish seem to do so well. But it’s also a more mature type of writing than we have not seen from Navarro before – whereas things like Atrapa la Bandera were brilliant with their bold heroism and vivid action, Pasaje al Amanecer has to convey more subtle emotional content, but such is Navarro’s skill that it feels perfectly judged.

One of the most interesting thing about the score is the way Navarro works in several Middle Eastern and other ethnic instrumental ideas into the score; this is apparent right from the first cue, “Manufacturing Memories,” a moody piece which blends soft and ethereal string and synth writing with what sounds like an Iraqi santoor hammered dulcimer, combined with a breathy Arabic mizmar oboe. Subsequent cues like “The Announcent,” the harsh and aggressive “The Three Doors,” and the dreamlike “Overnight My Lap Belongs To You” make similar use of evocative regional textures, with the latter pair also introducing vocal effects to add a darkly-hued human quality; the former reminds of the vocal textures James Horner used in scores like The Four Feathers, while the latter is like the wind whispering across a desert landscape.

Other cues are more conventionally orchestral and emotionally direct, speaking to Javier’s turbulent relationships and the pull he feels to help those in need. “Dreamcatcher” and “A Chance to Choose” feature especially lovely cello solos, “Candela” and “Revelation” offset tender piano solos against the synths and strings from the opening cue, and “Manuela” is breathtaking in its heart-rending simplicity, with two cellos and a solo piano carrying the luscious central melody. “The Star of David” and “Alone” are gentle, almost childlike, with magical glockenspiel sounds adding a different dimension to the core instrumental base. The combination of solo piano and sighing strings “Misha & Mira” is desperately poignant, but utterly compelling., and when the cello joins in the effect is gorgeous.

However, the best three cues are probably the last three – “Lullaby,” “To the Core of the Soul,” and “Passage to Dawn Main Theme” – which end the album on an unequivocal high. The “Lullaby” is a beautiful piece for solo cello and a boy soprano singing in French and Spanish, crystal clear and emotionally direct, which is joined at the end by a full boy’s choir. The other two are more conventionally instrumental, and perform several fulsome statements of the score’s main themes, rendered for harp, solo cello, rhapsodic pianos, and warm, flowing strings.

This is a quite superb score from a composer who I predict will go on to become one of the best film composers Spain has ever produced. It’s emotionally stirring, compositionally intelligent, instrumentally creative, appropriate for the culture it is depicting, and consistently entertaining, which is pretty much all you can ever hope for in a score. It core is available on CD from Varese Sarabande Records, which released it under its English title.

Track Listing: 1. Manufacturing Memories (2:28), 2. Dreamcatcher (1:01), 3. Candela (1:28), 4. The Announcement (1:21), 5. Manuela (2:23), 6. A Chance to Choose (2:11), 7. A Long Distance (2:43), 8. Revelation (1:36), 9. The Star of David (1:58), 10. Alone (1:43), 11. Promise Me, You Will Be Back (1:58), 12. The Mail (2:18), 13. Misha & Mira (4:58), 14. The Three Doors (1:40), 15. Overnight My Lap Belongs To You (2:38), 16. Life Gave Me Another Chance (3:43), 17. Moonlight – Clair de Lune (written by Claude Debussy) (5:31), 18. Lullaby (4:38), 19. To the Core of the Soul (5:03), 20. Passage To Dawn – Main Theme (4:48). Varese Sarabande, 55 minutes 53 seconds.

 

PLAN DE FUGA – Pascal Gaigne

Plan de Fuga [Escape Plan] is a Spanish action-thriller directed by Iñaki Dorronsoro. It stars Alain Hernández as Víctor, a charismatic expert thief who uses a blowtorch to commit his crimes. When Víctor is hired by members of the Russian mafia to break into a highly protected bank vault he puts his regular team together, but before long Víctor realizes that this is no ordinary crime – and it may be his last. The exciting score for the film is by French-born Spanish-based composer Pascal Gaigne, whose music over the past few years has impressed me greatly, especially things like Lasa y Zabala, El Olivo, and El Faro de las Orcas.

Plan de Fuga differs greatly from Pascal Gaigne’s usual style, which often tends to be lyrical, understated, and often embraces a sense of classical minimalism. Instead, the score is intense, exciting, and vibrant, blending aggressive orchestral lines performed by The Bratislava Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Hernando, with electronic textures and jazz influences. The “Main Title” is a perfect example of this: a modern jazz piece featuring a languid solo trumpet accentuated by trilling string pulses and electronic beats – a blast! The jazzy influences continue on through subsequent cues like “Es Él!,” “Tenía Un Amigo/En Casa,” and “Cama (Vamos de Viaje)” with its John Barry-esque saxphone, establishing a musical identity for Víctor that is immediate and memorable.

Cues like “En Casa de Ramón,” “Torre Norte,” and the mysterious-sounding “Qué Es Esto?” are built around layers of darkly romantic string lines, and remind me a little of Christopher Young’s 1990s thriller music. There is also a decent amount of action and thriller music, notably in cues like “Primer Butrón,” “Hay Alguien Fuera,” the stunning 9-minute “Atraco,” and the two “El Túnel” cues, where the orchestra rises to the fore and performs with excitement and energy, with especially notable work from the strings. I love some of the little instrumental touches and orchestration flourishes Gaigne works into these cues – the clarinet in “Primer Butrón,” the Horner-esque rumbling pianos in “El Túnel 2,” the fluttering percussion ideas. It’s always a sign of a great composer when he or she injects this much creativity into the orchestrations simply because it’s a fun and cool thing to do.

The difference between thriller scores like Plan de Fuga and the mainstream Hollywood action movies is like night and day. Gaigne relies much more on his orchestra than on processed electronic beats and loops, he allows the music to develop identifiable harmony and melody, and when the action music kicks in it is creative in terms of its tempi and in terms of which instrument is providing the rhythmic undercurrent, and he dresses the up with unexpected orchestral textures that keep the music interesting without losing energy or drive. This is one of the best action-thriller score of the year, and is highly recommended to anyone who – like me – is getting tired of hearing the same old droning and thumping in similar American films. The score is available on CD from the Spanish soundtrack label Quartet Records.

Track Listing: 1. Plan de Fuga (1:25), 2. En Casa de Ramón (2:30), 3. Es Él!/Hay Un Problema/Primer Butrón (6:19), 4. Torre Norte (3:40), 5. Tenía Un Amigo/En Casa (2:40), 6. Artificiero (1:40), 7. No Me Encuentro Bien/Hay Alguien Fuera (3:37), 8. Qué Es Esto? (1:31), 9. Cama (Vamos de Viaje) (2:22), 10. Garaje (1:17), 11. Atraco (9:16), 12. El Túnel 1 (4:21), 13. El Túnel 2 (1:12), 14. Conversación Tango (1:48), 15. Perdóname/Plan de Fuga Créditos (5:15). Quartet Records QR-273, 48 minutes 57 seconds.

 

RED DE LIBERTAD – Óscar Martín Leanizbarrutia

Red de Libertad [The Network of Freedom] is a Spanish language historical drama written and directed by Pablo Moreno. It tells the true life story of Sister Helena Studler – who some call the French Oskar Schindler – a nun who during World War II created a charity which helped rescue more than 2,000 people from the Nazis in occupied France. The film stars Assumpta Serna as Helena and has an outstanding score by the young Spanish composer Óscar Martín Leanizbarrutia.

Leanizbarrutia is not a composer whose music has been on my radar before – this is only his fourth score, since making his film music debut last year – but this will definitely change in the wake of Red de Libertad. Like most Spanish scores seem to be, it’s a bold and dramatic work for the full orchestra, teeming with beautiful instrumental passages, and filled with recurring themes. What Red de Libertad has going in its favor is a sense of scope: the score, considering that it deals with weighty themes of bravery and sacrifice against the backdrop of war, often becomes large and bold, with a heavy percussive element that adds power to the music, and several moments of brass and choral magnificence.

You can hear all this in the opening cue, “Introducción y Titulo,” which ranges in style from intimate piano and harp writing, to solo oboes, to soaring dramatic strings underpinned with insistent war-like drums. This style is deconstructed in several cues within the body of the score – “Sor la Necesitamos” revisits the lovely solo oboe, and “Pierre” brings the strings and percussion the fore, for example – but the development of the score in context is what allows Leanizbarrutia’s music to really shine

To illustrate the horrors that the Nazis brought to Paris during WWII, cues like “Emboscada,” the second half of “Invasión de Metz,” the opening moments of “Michel Se Sacrificial” are more vivid and action packed, aggressive and sometimes dissonant, often making use of thrusting strong ostinatos, bold brass, thunderous percussion, and sometimes a choir. Some of his instrumental flourishes here are also very interesting and accomplished, and include Horner-style piano crashes, militaristic trumpets in “Soldados Prisioneros,” a boy soprano in “Primeras Detenciones,” tubular bells and voices in “Los Barriles,” and so on.

However, as the score continues into its second half and builds its climax, Leanizbarrutia gradually moves away from horror and more towards catharsis and redemption. The inhuman tragedy that Helena witnesses, and which ultimately causes her to act, is palpably conveyed with searing string writing in cues like “Masacre” and “Saliendo del Campo,” and lamenting liturgical vocal/choral performances in “Barracones de Miseria” and “Dónde Está Su Dios”. The pull of home is conveyed through the unexpected accordions in “Dudas y Celos,” “Sospechas” and “Vuelta Al Hogar”. Probably the score’s single best cue is “Esperanza y Libertad,” which builds into a glorious celebration of orchestral-and-choral majesty, but the finale – from “Arresto y Ejecución” through to the end of “Pie Jesus (Créditos Finales)” – also reaches some powerful heights of emotion and drama that combine together all the score’s most important musical elements, including an especially beautiful rendition of the score’s main theme in “Homenaje a Sor Helena”.

If this score is a true representation of the sort of writing that Óscar Martín Leanizbarrutia is capable of producing, then film music fans are in for a treat as this 28-year old from León’s career develops. Spanish cinema is already such a treasure trove of outstanding film music, and Leanizbarrutia is the latest composer to join the group of its most outstanding practitioners. The score is not available on CD, but was released as a digital download through most of the usual online retailers.

Track Listing: 1. Introducción y Titulo (2:56), 2. Emboscada (0:56), 3. Refugiados (1:20), 4. Invasión de Metz (4:48), 5. Soldados Prisioneros (2:00), 6. Masacre (1:46), 7. Barracones de Miseria (1:42), 8. Saliendo del Campo/Pierre (1:58), 9. Primeras Detenciones (3:32), 10. Sor la Necesitamos (1:34), 11. Dudas y Celos (1:28), 12. Los Barriles (1:28), 13. Esperanza y Libertad (3:44), 14. Sospechas/Nuevo Oficial (1:58), 15. La Trampa (2:20), 16. Dónde Está Su Dios? (2:32), 17. El Juicio (1:12), 18. La Sentencia (1:26), 19. Vuelta Al Hogar/Traición (2:24), 20. Michel se Sacrifica/Debe Huir Sor (3:30), 21. Liberación del General Giraud/Todo Un Imperio Desafiado (1:20), 22. Arresto y Ejecución (2:04), 23. Homenaje a Sor Helena (2:22), 24. La Guerra Ha Terminado (3:40), 25. Pie Jesus (Créditos Finales) (5:38). BSO Records, 59 minutes 38 seconds.

 

SÉ QUIÉN ERES – Arnau Bataller

Sé Quién Eres [I Know Who You Are] is a Spanish-language TV series written and directed by Pau Freixas, broadcast on the Telecinco network. It’s a mystery/drama/thriller about a man who wakes up in the hospital after a car accident with no memory of who he is or what he was doing before he crashed. Gradually it emerges that the man is named Juan Elías, and that he is a famous attorney specializing in bringing organized crime figures to justice. However, before long, Juan Elías finds himself working to prove his own innocence, after he is accused of murdering his missing niece. The show stars Francesc Garrido, Blanca Portillo, and Aida Folch, and has an original score by composer Arnau Bataller.

Bataller is one of my favorite Spanish composers. Beginning with his spectacular Gothic horror score La Herencia Valdemar in 2010, I have found Bataller’s music to be intelligent, memorably thematic, orchestrally creative, and emotionally powerful, with scores like Héroes (2010), Ermessenda (2011), La Sombra Prohibida (2011), and La Hermandad (2012) being notable highlights. The full score for Sé Quién Eres does not quite reach those outstanding heights, but does contain one utterly astonishing cue that ranks among the best single pieces of music written anywhere in the world in 2017.

The end credits piece, “Final SQE,” is simply magnificent, a 7-minute tour de force of elegance and power. The whole thing is build arount a bank of dancing, lithe complementary strings, full of movement, passing a repeated ostinato around the section. As the cue develops little textures emerge – a highlighted solo cello, a fluttering flute, tubular bells, a glass bowl – and it all slowly grows and builds, overlapping and increasing in intensity. A cautious solo piano takes over around the 3:30 mark, performing a bittersweet melody. A solo female vocalist is introduced soon after, accentuating the piano. Then the original string ostinato returns, the brass section joins in, and the whole thing builds and crescendos towards its climax, where the featured female vocalist pushes it all over the top. It’s breathless, and wholly wonderful.

Unfortunately the rest of the score never quite lives up to the magnificence of its finale. The same elements are there, but they never quite come together in the same way, and are occasionally obscured by a bed of bleating electronic pulses, which is quite unforgivable. There is also a great deal of very subtle mood music conveyed mainly by electronic pulses and string figures, which is not especially engaging. Despite this, some cues do stand out; I’m especially fond of the urgent opening cue “Inicio SQE,” the darkly romantic string writing in “Alicia” and “Eva Enamorada,” the throbbing second half of “Peligro,” the downbeat introspection of “Investigación Contenida,” the mournful solo cello and harp writing in ”Elías,” and the oddly dance-like rhythms of “Esperando.”

However, irrespective of how interesting some of this music is, the standout piece of the score remains “Final SQE,” and many people will be satisfied with that cue alone. Arnau Bataller is such a great composer when he really stretches himself and reaches for orchestral and thematic heights, and that one cue is welcome reminder of just that. The score is not available on CD, but was released as a digital download through most of the usual online retailers.

Track Listing: 1. Inicio SQE (3:41), 2. Final SQE (6:59), 3. Investigando (4:02), 4. Ha Pasado Alguna Cosa (1:51), 5. Alicia (4:12), 6. Tensión Muy Contenida (1:48), 7. Eva Enamorada (2:32), 8. Textura Obscura (1:19), 9. Peligro (1:42), 10. El Topo (3:35), 11. Investigación Contenida (3:18), 12. Preguntas (2:05), 13. Más Acción (2:49), 14. Mientes (1:50), 15. Elías (2:40), 16. Ambigüedad (1:46), 17. Meditando (1:49), 18. Esperando (2:10). Mira Mi Música, 50 minutes 18 seconds.

 

TIEMPOS DE GUERRA – Federico Jusid

Tiempos de Guerra is a Spanish TV series broadcast on the Antena 3 Network. It’s a historical drama, set in North Africa in the 1920s, and follows the lives of a group of nurses who are sent by the Spanish Red Cross to establish a hospital in the city of Melilla to treat the soldiers wounded in the war between Spanish colonials and Moroccan natives, both of whom are vying for control for control of the strategically vital Rif region. The show stars Amaia Salamanca, Alex Garcia, and Veronica Sanchez, and was produced by the same team that made the acclaimed series El Tiempo Entre Costuras in 2013. It also has a spectacular score by the reigning king of Iberian television music, Argentine composer Federico Jusid.

Tiempos de Guerra is not as overwhelmingly spectacular as the scores for, say, Isabel or Carlos Rey Emperador, but those are ridiculously high standards that Jusid has set for himself, and by anyone else’s standards it’s superb. Fully orchestral, thematic, richly arranges, and with sparkling solos for violin, piano, and cello, the whole thing overflows with emotional period romance and drama from the first cue to the last. The “Main Titles” set the standard with gorgeous cascading piano lines, shimmering strings, rich brass counterpoints, and dancing flutes weaving through it all. It’s quite superb.

Much of the rest of the score follows the same blueprint, with variations in tempo and lead instrument to keep things fresh and interesting. “Hustle and Bustle” is highly rhythmic, almost Phillip Glass-like in terms of the piano and woodwind interplay, but the string lines on top are effortlessly classy and graceful. “Emergency” and “In Search For Him” are more frantic and exciting, with devilish string ostinatos punctuated by deep bass chords and rolling, tempestuous piano clusters. “Julia” is slower and more reflective, and incorporates a downbeat variation on the main title theme for thoughtful piano. “Writing Home” incorporates the delicate, magical sound of a celesta and a graceful, flighty solo violin.

“Magdalena” is more fanciful and playful, with pizzicato textures that melt into warm string chords. “The Funeral” is as moving as one would expect, where the slow, respectful string writing is initiated by deep rumbles from the timpani. “Bridges” is a playfully romantic waltz led by oboe. “Letters” is moving and poignant, with especially gorgeous writing for piano. “The Heroes Return” has a militaristic edge, transferring the melodic writing to warm horns and soft strings accompanied by lightly rapped snare drums. The finale of “Sheets in the Sun” rises to a great emotional crescendo. The conclusive “Pilar” begins with a hint of trepidation, moves through some appealing writing for solo flute, and ends on a bittersweet note.

This is easily one of the finest television scores of 2017, and yet again it’s for a show that is not broadcast in the United States, and which most people will not have heard of. Federico Jusid continues to impress, year upon year, with his sense of beauty, his gorgeous themes and orchestrations, and his unapologetic acknowledgement of film and television’s inherent emotion. Unfortunately, the score for Tiempos de Guerra is not available for commercial purchase at the time of writing – only via this promo Jusid prepared for awards consideration purposes.

Track Listing: 1. Main Titles (1:04), 2. Hustle and Bustle (3:03), 3. Emergency (2:53), 4. Julia (2:18), 5. Writing Home (3:18), 6. Magdalena (1:26), 7. 7. In Search For Him (1:51), 8. The Funeral (2:26), 9. The Station (2:30), 10. Bridges (1:14), 11. Magdalena Returns (3:00), 12. Letters (1:49), 13. The Heroes Return (1:17), 14. Confession (2:31), 15. Sheets in the Sun (2:35), 16. See Again (2:11), 17. Pilar (2:55). Promo, 38 minutes 25 seconds.

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  1. Mesple Wang
    January 16, 2018 at 5:38 am

    Thank you for sharing worldwide excellent scores every year! As for Spanish movie scores, I suggest “Cold Skin” by Victor Reyes. Its lush and sweeping orchestral sound enchanted me.

    BTW, how can I get “TIEMPOS DE GUERRA” ost? I like Federico Jusid’s film music, but most of them are not released. Great loss!

  2. Scott W Weber
    January 18, 2018 at 6:27 am

    I always look forward to these year-end roundups…I always learn of a few scores that slipped by me. Agree with the above, so hoping for more Jusid releases in the future…it’s so frustrating when good scores go unreleased 😦

  3. Mesple Wang
    January 18, 2018 at 3:58 pm

    Just a reminder, “Red de Libertad” ost will be released on physical CD by Rosetta Records.

  1. February 1, 2018 at 10:00 am

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