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Best Scores of 2017 – Rest of Europe, Part II

January 26, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments

The seventh and penultimate installment in my annual series of articles looking at the best “under the radar” scores from around the world sees us back on Europe mainland for a final dash around the continent. This is where we get really obscure: we’ve got a total of eight scores here, including a TV series from Poland, a historical action movie from Russia written by a rock musician, a Norwegian supernatural thriller, children’s adventure films from both Germany and Norway – one of which is animated – and a comedy road movie about racism from Finland! It just goes to show that good film music being written everywhere, in the most unexpected places, if only you have the patience to seek it out.

BELLE EPOQUE – Bartosz Chajdecki

Belle Epoque is a Polish TV series broadcast on the TVN network, written by Marek Bukowski and Maciej Dancewicz. Set in Krakow in 1908, the series stars Paweł Małaszyński as Jan Edigey-Korycki, a consulting detective similar to Sherlock Holmes, who returns home to Krakow after many years of travel after his mother is killed. While investigating his mother’s death he tries to re-ignite his romantic relationship with Konstancja Morawiecka (Magdalena Cielecka), the wealthy noblewoman who was Jan’s fiancée before he was forced to leave, and is subsequently employed by the local police department to help them solve additional murder cases. It’s a lavish, opulent period piece, and has a score to match by the outstanding composer Bartosz Chajdecki.

Belle Epoque marks the second time that Chajdecki has composed the score for a massively popular Polish TV series, after Czas Honoru in 2010. The 37-year-old composer from Krakow has, over the course of the 8 years or so, proven himself to be an incredibly talented and versatile artist who can switch from genre to genre without a drop in quality, and who can write outstanding, memorable themes. Belle Epoque shows this talent in abundance, but what’s interesting about this score is how easily it bucks convention. While it contains its fair share of beautiful classical orchestral textures and lush themes suitable for the period in which the show is set, it’s also unexpectedly contemporary at times too, using modern electronic instruments and synthesizers, some rock beats, and urban grooves that give it an edgy feel.

Some of the music feels very similar in tone the music for several of the other recent Sherlock Holmes adaptations for film and television, including music by Hans Zimmer and David Arnold. The three “Belle Brilliante” cues, “Belle Cantabile 2,” and “Tematyczny Groove” all have the same sort of raucous liveliness and verve to them, with swirling gypsy violins capturing both the energy of the period, and the brilliance of Jan’s mind. The three “Belle Song” cues, “Belle Cantabile – Groove Band Version,” “Belle Protest Song,” and “Piosenkowy” are catchy and cool in a way that reminds me of someone like Dick Dale, or a 1960s psychedelia band, with both electric guitars and acoustic guitars playing soft rock themes, underpinned by distant drums, tubular bells, and even a Hammond organ.

The action music often feels very contemporary, with rapid electronic pulses, synth percussion, and industrial sound effects enlivened by a solo cello ostinato, growling brass clusters, or a bank of strings; cues like “Belle Inquietante,” “Belle Energico 1,” “Belle Grave,” the exciting “Belle Presto,” the guitar-heavy “Belle Energico 2,” “Belle Furioso,” “Belle Energico 2,” and the impressive “Belle Funebre con Lamentoso” adopt this style, and will absolutely appeal to fans of modern day action scoring. Some of the tension and suspense music is very modern-sounding too, with layered and processed electronic textures giving the churning, moody string writing the “Belle Secret” cues an urban feel.

However, where the score really excels for me is in its moments of classical richness and beauty. Cues like “Belle Shadows 1” “Belle Piano,” “Belle Note 2,” the beautiful “Belle Shadows 3,” and the Gothically melodramatic “Belle Note 4” use harpsichords, pianos, undulating string textures, and occasional woodwinds to weave develop a captivating atmosphere. There is darkness and uncertainty too, in cues like “Belle Intro-Cello Version,” “Belle Piano – Tension 1,” and “Belle Intro-Violin Version,” and in all cases the solo instrumental phrases are often offset against softly droning, occasionally quite harsh and dissonant electronic textures, which gives them a unique timbre.

Unfortunately the music for Belle Epoque is not available for purchase on CD or as a download – Chajdecki produced this gargantuan 90 minute promo for awards consideration purposes only. However, anyone reading this review should consider it a plea to album producers to rectify the situation – this music is too good to remain unreleased.

Track Listing: 1. Belle Shadows 1 (1:41), 2. Belle Brilliante 1 (1:16), 3. Belle Intro – Cello Version (1:15), 4. Belle Inquietante (2:02), 5. Belle Energico 1 (1:10), 6. Belle Piano (2:55), 7. Belle Song 1 (1:39), 8. Belle Secret 1 (4:33), 9. Belle Cantabile 1 (2:47), 10. Belle Cantabile 2 (1:23), 11. Belle Piano – Tension 1 (5:09), 12. Belle Grave (1:55), 13. Belle Shadows 2 (1:41), 14. Belle Cantabile – Piano Version (2:47), 15. Belle Song 2 (1:39), 16. Belle Presto (2:23), 17. Belle Note 1 (3:12), 18. Belle Energico – Band Version (1:33), 19. Belle Note 2 (1:53), 20. Belle Brilliante 2 (1:16), 21. Belle Furioso (2:24), 22. Belle Song 3 (1:40), 23. Belle Cantabile – Groove Band Version (1:23), 24. Belle Piano – Tension 2 (5:19), 25. Belle Secret 2 (4:33), 26. Belle Energico 2 (2:33), 27. Belle Note 3 (3:12), 28. Belle Piano – Delicate 1 (2:00), 29. Belle Protest Song (2:49), 30. Belle Shadows 3 (1:43), 31. Belle Funebre non Lamentoso (2:24), 32. Belle – Delicate 2 (3:35), 33. Belle Brilliante 3 (1:16), 34. Piosenkowy (2:14), 35. Tematyczny Groove (1:23), 36. Belle Intro – Violin Version (1:28), 37. Belle Note 4 (3:12), 38. Belle Energico 3 (1:22), 39. Belle Shadows 4 (1:41). Promo, 90 minutes 20 seconds.



Elias og Storegaps Hemmelighet is a Norwegian animated film for children directed by Simen Alsvik. It is the latest part of the multi-media ‘Elias’ series based on a number of popular books by Eyvind Skele, which follow the adventures of an anthropomorphic tugboat named Elias and his friends, who all live in a fishing village on the coast of Norway – a little like Thomas the Tank Engine, but with boats instead of trains. This is the third theatrical film based on Elias’s adventures, but there is also a well-liked TV series, a various spinoff toys and games, and even a stage play!

The score for Elias og Storegaps Hemmelighet, like everything else in the Elias world, is by Norwegian composer Gaute Storaas, who impressed enormously in 2016 with his international breakthrough scores for Birkebeinerne [The Last King] and A Man Called Ove, and is seeking to continue on that success this year. As one would expect from this being a children’s film, Elias og Storegaps Hemmelighet is fully orchestral, light, bright, energetic, and thematic, with plenty of emotional content to guide the young viewers through the story. Of course, with this being a Scandinavian film, the music also has it’s fair share of more downbeat and moody content, and this is apparent right from the first cue, “Nordlys,” which presents the first performance of the lilting sea-shanty like main theme, but surrounds it with a series of expressive textures, ranging from fairytale chimes and undulating sea-surge strings to slightly ominous-sounding oboe textures.

As the score develops Storaas runs his orchestra through every conceivable emotion, with skill and dexterity and creativity in his arrangements and orchestrations, and no amount of fun and wit. In a score where every cue has some musical worth, a few do stand out. “Klaeb og Klure” is light and fanciful, with bubbling string and woodwind lines and comic pizzicato textures “Våghals” is a little more heroic and bombastic, with a Holst-like string ostinato and almpst Goldenthalian brass wails alongside the fine orchestral lines. “Godnatt” is a beautiful lullaby-style version of the main theme for celesta “Ordonnansbåten” and “Festfyrverkeri” are full of pomp and pageantry, a wash of brass fanfares and snare drum riffs “Til Storehavn” is expansive and optimistic, ready for the adventure to come – although the piano scale in it does have an odd similarity to The Phantom of the Opera!

Later, “Opplæring” and “Havnepoliti” are lively, frothy and comedic, filled with delicate prancing strings. The second half of “Stinkador” unexpectedly adopts some Arabian Night phrasings in the string writing, and has an explosive finale. “Mystisk Lys” revisits some of the ominous textures from the beginning of the opening cue, before heading off into what feels like a parody of the jazzy Mission Impossible action and suspense music. “Sparken” is downbeat and melancholy, clearly underscoring a moment of sadness for the little boat with beautifully rendered string and harp writing. “Tristesse” features some unexpectedly gorgeous cello and woodwind lines, which again have and solemn ands reflective quality.

Towards the end of the score, “Storegap” is exciting and adventurous, with a surging string undercurrent and choppy, rhythmic ideas. “Naere På” ventures briefly – only briefly – into horror territory with some outstanding, imposing brass blasts of great power. “Lillegrave og Veslebore” begin an interesting combination of the both the ‘mystery’ and ‘action’ styles, but ends with an almost Tchaikovsky-like sequence of mickey-mouseing for hooting woodwinds and tiptoeing strings. “Hjelpen Kommer” is boldly thematic and full of swashbuckling fanfares for brass, darker pulsating drumbeats, and swirling strings, a style of writing that continues into “Lenkene Brytes” and “Fri,” both of which contain more exciting action music and sweeping, emotional conclusion. The final cue, “Nordlyset Tilbake,” is noble and patriotic, with stirring brass and string writing accompanied by martial snare drum riffs, which finishes the score on an oddly formal note.

Perhaps the only drawback to Elias og Storegaps Hemmelighet is that it occasionally feels a little bit all-over-the-place. This is a regular issue that plagues scores written for films aimed at very young children; every emotion has to be telegraphed, every nuance highlighted, every plot twist accentuated. It certainly gives a composer freedom to be creative, and Storaas does about as well as anyone could reasonably be expected to do, but some may find it a little scattershot and lacking in focus.

Unfortunately the music for Elias og Storegaps Hemmelighet is not available for purchase on CD or as a download – this promo was produced by Storaas for awards consideration purposes only. However, as is always the case when I review commercially unavailable scores, this review should be taken as a request for producers to change this and release this outstanding music for all to hear.

Track Listing: 1. Nordlys (1:47), 2. Klaeb og Klure (1:20), 3. Våghals (2:59), 4. Godnatt (0:40), 5. Ordonnansbåten (0:46), 6. Til Storehavn (1:24), 7. Festfyrverkeri (1:06), 8. Jobbtilbud (1:18), 9. Opplæring (1:41), 10. Havnepoliti (1:24), 11. Tørrfisklageret (1:08), 12. Stinkador (1:41), 13. Etter Badet (0:54), 14. Mystisk Lys (2:06), 15. Mistanke (1:58), 16. Sparken (2:35), 17. Tristesse (1:37), 18. Storegap (2:49), 19. Storeblink (1:49), 20. Naere På (2:16), 21. Lillegrave og Veslebore (1:54), 22. Hjelpen Kommer (1:55), 23. Hardt Metall (1:38), 24. Lenkene Brytes (2:23), 25. Fri (1:22), 26. Nordlyset Tilbake (2:05). Promo, 44 minutes 48 seconds.



Furious: Legend of Kolovrat – or Легенда о Коловрате – is a Russian historical action movie directed by Ivan Shurkhovetskiy. It tells the story of The Destruction of Riazan, a medieval military tale about the capture of the city of Ryazan by the Mongols in 1237, and in which a noble knight named Evpaty Kolovrat leads his people in a desperate fight against Batu, the grandson of Genghis Khan, who is seeking to expand his legendary ancestor’s empire. The film stars Ilya Malakov, Polina Chernyshova, and Aleksandr Choi, and was a massive box office success in Russia when it opened in cinemas in November 2017.

The score for Furious is by an unlikely source: the Armenian-American rock singer and songwriter Serj Tankian, who prior to this was best known as the front man of the rock band System of a Down. However, unlike most rockers-turned-composers, Tankian has always had an operatic, almost symphonic edge to his music, and often incorporated ethnic elements and instruments into even his most aggressive songs to give them an interesting tone. Furthermore, Tankian is a student of film music – in a recent interview with Loudwire magazine he said he was most likely to be listening to John Barry than anything else in his car, and just last year he was a guest vocal performer on Ramin Djawadi’s Game of Thrones concert tour. In the same interview with Loudwire, Tankian described his score for Furious as “a big epic action historical-based fantasy score” which allowed him to use “ethnic folk instrumentation, huge bombastic orchestra and percussion, and fucking heavy metal guitars and some drums,” and this is a perfect description of what the score sounds like.

The score is huge, bold, brash, and endlessly entertaining, but what’s especially impressive is how sophisticated it sounds. Tankian (with help from his orchestrators, obviously) clearly knows his way around an orchestra, and several cues stand out for the unexpected beauty, delicacy, or instrumental inventiveness. Among the most notable orchestral cues are: “The Prince,” a lightly prancing scherzo; “The Family” and “Nastya,” which feature intimate solos for harp, dulcimer, and woodwinds; “Warn Our People,” which is dance-like and rhythmic; “Ryazan is Gone” and “Are They Really Outs,” which are emotional and feature lush string writing; “Woodland Spirits,” which is the evocative and dream-like but a little unsettling in the way it uses processed vocals and a highly-manipulated string drone; and the spiritual-sounding “Come Kill Us,” which uses cellos and solo vocals to haunting, emotional effect.

Of course, with Tankian being Tankian, there are plenty of instances where he lets his rock roots show: cues like “Ambush,” “Horde Patrol,” “The Horde Returns,” “There’s No Blood,” the second half of “Uragsha,” “Bear Attack,” “Battle Cry,” and “Hold the Line” throb with enormous pulsating electric guitars and a huge drum kit, combining with the orchestra and the choir to create an overwhelming wall of sound and fury. Some of it is very Hans Zimmer-esque in tone, but what makes this score stand out from all the other Zimmer imitators is the plethora of ethnic ideas that emerge, ranging from Mongolian throat singers to ancient-sounding woodwinds. Weaving through it all is a large and soaring main theme, which gets several spectacular renditions, including a solo female vocal rendition at the beginning of “The Horde is Here,” an epic orchestral version in “Death of Kolovrat,” and in a concert version in the conclusive “Kolovrat Theme.”

The whole thing is capped off with an original song, “A Fine Morning to Die,” written and performed by Tankian with members of IOWA, a rock group from Belarus, whose lead singer Ekaterina Ivanchikova has a soft, intimate, but deeply emotional tone. The song is based on Tankian’s main Kolovrat theme, and is quite superb. Ivanchikova sings in Russian, and Tankian sings in English, and together they reach quite operatic heights.

The only drawback to the album as a whole is its length – the middle section does tend to drag a little – but other than that this is a very impressive score from someone you would not expect to be able to write like this. With this, plus the more haunting and thoughtful documentary score Intent to Destroy which was also released in 2017, it’s clear that Tankian has the chops to succeed as a film composer, and stands head and shoulders above many of the other hard rockers who have tried their hand at film music of late.

Track Listing: 1. Intro (2:21), Ambush (2:17), Horde Patrol (1:20), The Prince (0:47), The Family (0:40), Nastya (0:47), The Horde is Here (1:05), Into the Wilderness (1:05), Mongolian Camp (2:43), Warn Our People (1:11), To Arms! (1:26), Fedor’s Last Stand (1:54), You Should Prey (2:03), Ryazan is Gone (4:30), Nastya’s Whistle (0:53), The Horde Returns (2:35), Herb Potion (3:18), Holy Mother (0:46), There’s No Blood (0:46), Woodland Spirits (2:19), Confusion (3:01), Uragsha (3:40), Bear Attack (4:48), The Children (2:01), Are They Really Ours? (2:13), Prepare for Battle (1:46), Battle Cry (3:59), Hold the Line (3:08), Come Kill Us (3:46), Sail (2:56), Death of Kolovrat (3:15), Shoulder to Shoulder (1:00), Kolovrat Theme (3:07), A Fine Morning to Die (written by Serj Tankian, Ekaterina Ivanchikova, Yevgeny Rayevskis, and Dmitry Rayevskis, performed by Serj Tankian feat. IOWA) (3:47). Lakeshore Records, 77 minutes 31 seconds.



Hexe Lillis Eingesacktes Weihnachtsfest – or Lilly the Witch Saves Christmas, in English – is a German fantasy adventure film for children directed by Wolfgang Groos, which is part of the long-running Hexe Lilli series of films based on the popular novels by Birgit Rieger. It tells the continuing story of an ordinary young German girl named Lilli who stumbled upon a magic book which turned her into a witch, and who subsequently experienced many wild adventures that took her all over the world. In this third film Lilli, having been annoyed by her little brother, accidentally casts a spell which summons Knecht Ruprecht, a character from Germanic Christmas folklore with a penchant for mischief and mayhem. In order to send him back where he came from Lilli sets off to track down the one person who can help her: Santa Claus!

The score for Hexe Lillis Eingesacktes Weihnachtsfest is by a relative newcomer, 29-year-old German-born Los Angeles-based composer Anne Kathrin Dern. She’s a former assistant to composer Pinar Toprak, and has written music and done arrangements for various TV shows and short films, but this appears to be only the third film where she was lead composer. On the evidence of this, she’s got a huge future ahead of her; this is one of her two excellent scores in 2017 (the other being the Chinese film The Jade Pendant), and it shows her to have a fluid orchestral style filled with easy thematic ideas, lovely harmonies, and – on this score, specifically, a wonderful whimsical way of conveying the magic of Christmas.

The score has quite a bit in common with other seasonal efforts like John Williams’s Home Alone, Danny Elfman’s Edward Scissorhands, John Debney’s Elf, Bruce Broughton’s Miracle on 34th Street, Alan Silvestri’s The Polar Express, and others of that type, in the way it blends a full and lush orchestra with seasonal orchestrations – chimes, sleigh bells, glockenspiels, and even an occasional choir. Cues like the “Opening,” “Knecht Ruprecht,” “Letter to Nicholas,” the superb “The Search for Tetrich,” and “Reverse the Spell” all have that wonderfully Christmassy sound, which many will find appealing.

There’s also more than a hint of Williams’s music for the first two Harry Potter scores in the way it conveys the mood of magic and witchcraft – the string phrasing, the woodwind counterpoint, the frisky and mischievous tempos, the frequent use of a celesta. Cues like the aforementioned “Opening,” “Summoning Spell,” “The Magic of Light,” “The Deal,” and “The Magical Morning” will appeal to anyone who enjoyed Williams’s dalliances at Hogwarts, because they are clearly the template for quite a bit of Dern’s score. There is also a mood of mystery and slight menace associated with the Knecht Ruprecht character and the scenes in which he appears; Dern augments the orchestra with a cimbalom or harpsichord as a musical marker for that character, most notably in “Capturing Knecht Ruprecht,” the “Main Titles,” and “Finding Ruprecht,” keeping him and his antics at the center of the narrative.

The score is not especially strong in terms of truly memorably melodies, but when the more emotional side of Dern’s writing emerges it generally tends to be warm, appealing, and just on the right side of sentimental. Cues such as “The Gift of Friendship,” “Evil Can Create Evil,” the gorgeous but melancholy “The True Meaning of Christmas,” the sweeping “Goodness Can Create Good,” and the conclusive pair “A New Home” and “Finale” leave very positive impressions with prominent statements of the score’s main melody, and are especially notable on the occasions where Dern it for solo piano. I was also quite impressed by one or two of the action cues, notably the second half of “Lost Tracks,” “Luring Ruprecht to School,” the finale minute or so of “My Parents Are Gone,” and “The Chase,” which pick up a head of playful, adventurous steam, and feature a more prominent brass element.

Overall, Hexe Lillis Eingesacktes Weihnachtsfest is a truly charming, enjoyable score which introduces Anne Kathrin Dern as a serious talent to watch, despite the fact that she is essentially doing her best John Williams impression throughout the entirety of the score. Unfortunately the music for Hexe Lillis Eingesacktes Weihnachtsfest is not available for commercial purchase – Dern put this promo album together for awards consideration purposes – but I implore any independent record label to invest in Dern’s work, because’s she’s really, really good.

Track Listing: 1. Opening (2:06), 2. Capturing Knecht Ruprecht (0:58), 3. Main Titles (1:33), 4. Summoning Spell (1:57), 5. Knecht Ruprecht (0:44), 6. The Gift of Friendship (2:17), 7. We Need to Leave (0:47), 8. The Magic of Light (1:24), 9. Finding Ruprecht (1:04), 10. At the Christmas Market (0:56), 11. Evil Can Create Evil (1:32), 12. Letter to Nicholas (2:24), 13. Answer from Nicholas (0:46), 14. The Deal (0:48), 15. Vanishing Teacher (0:55), 16. Lilli’s Failing Magic (0:22), 17. It’s Just a Game (0:51), 18. Lilli’s Plan (1:49), 19. The Magical Morning (1:45), 20. Noise in the Hall (0:35), 21. Lost Tracks (2:05), 22. Luring Ruprecht to School (1:59), 23. The Search for Tetrich (3:20), 24. My Parents Are Gone (2:22), 25. Missing Children (2:04), 26. The True Meaning of Christmas (3:45), 27. The Chase (1:28), 28. Goodness Can Create Good (4:26), 29. Reverse the Spell (2:09), 30. Surprise for Layla (0:56), 31. A New Home (1:28), 32. Finale (2:04). Promo, 53 minutes 39 seconds.


NAPOLI VELATA – Pasquale Catalano

Napoli Velata – Naples in Veils – is an Italian supernatural thriller film directed by Turkish filmmaker Ferzan Özpetek. It stars Giovanna Mezzogiorno as Adriana, a coroner in the city of Naples, who meets a handsome young man named Andrea (Alessandro Borghi), and has a one-night stand. The following day Adriana is called to the scene of a murder, and is shocked to find that Andrea is the victim – he has been brutally mutilated, and his eyes removed. Andrea begins an investigation into Andrea’s death, but before long finds herself enveloped in a mystery involving Andrea’s twin brother, ancient religious artifacts on the black market, and a clairvoyant witch who senses that something troubling is lurking not only in Andrea’s past, but her own.

The score for Napoli Veleta it by Italian composer Pasquale Catalano, who is probably not a familiar name internationally, but who has been working solidly in the Italian film industry for over a decade, his most prominent scores being Barney’s Version (2010), Magnifica Presenza (2012), and Allacciate le Cinture (2014). The score is a wonderful throwback to Italian film music of the 1960s and 70s, where mystery thrillers were not scored with classical orchestral histrionics, but mostly with jazz and light pop textures.

Catalano does use his orchestra in several places. The opening cue, “Naoli Velata,” is the best of all of them: it oscillates between mysterious phrases for harps and glockenspiel, huge Herrmannesque brass clusters, and a sweeping main theme theme for strings and woodwinds, romantic and expansive. Later, “Cappella Sanservo” is a rich and warm string wash that borders on feeling like catharsis, while both “Adriana” and ”Lost Adriana” are beautiful pieces for a solo piano, intimite and engaging, a stripped down version of the string theme heard in the opening cue.

However, several of the score’s longer and more prominent cues are based around this style of writing, often featuring dance-like rhythms. “Decumano Inferiore,” is steeped in the musical traditions of the Neapolitan region, and is a rich and sexy tango for an accordion, classical guitar, and contemporary percussion, which reminds me very much of something Luis Bacalov might have written. “Museo Archeologico” is also sultry and expressive, except this time the lead instruments are a guitar and a solo violn; the flourishes and techniques are rich and expressive and beautifully rendered. “Il Corpo Mirabile” is a little more contemporary, with hints of jazz, again blending electric and acoustic guitars with a cello and light jazzy percussion waves; this is surf rock, filtered through Ennio Morricone circa 1964.

Elsewhere, cues like “Obitorio” and “Stazione Toledo” are more atmospheric and unnerving, featuring unusual synth whines, drones, and pulses which create a disquieting mood. Meanwhile, “Luca” is an odd piece built around a repeated idea for a single plucked pizzicato violin and a solo oboe, an exercise in minimalist arrangements and nervousness, although a more comforting piano idea does emerge in the second half of the cue. “Porta Nolana” is an action piece written solely for percussion, a complicated array of patterns and beats with a great deal of energy. You can easily see how this music would accompany Adriana and her descent into Naples’s hidden underbelly in search of answers; it’s subtle and subdued, but effective.

The album is rounded out by several songs, including one – “Vasame” – which is a cover of a popular song by Enzo Gragnaniello by Italian singer Arisa, who sings it in the Neapolitan language. Director Özpetek hand-picked the song to feature as his film’s opening title after hearing it during a dinner party while he was shooting. This is a fun, unusual, but effective little score that defies genre conventions, and which will appeal especially to those who enjoyed a Latin flavor with their thrills and spills.

Track Listing: 1. Vasame (performed by Arisa) (4:12), 2. Napoli Velata (2:42), 3. Decumano Inferiore (5:59), 4. Ghir Enta (performed by Souad Massi) (5:05), 5. Adriana (2:57), 6. Museo Archeologico (4:22), 7. Senza Voce (performed by Pietra Montecorvino) (2:29), 8. Il Corpo Mirabile (3:28), 9. Obitorio (0:29), 10. Ritmo Terra e Cuore (performed by Stany Roggiero and I Bottari della Cantica Popolare (1:34), 11. Stazione Toledo (2:13), 12. Luca (3:32), 13. Sexy Rouge (performed by Pierre Terrasse) (3:25), 14. Porta Nolana (1:37), 15. Cappella Sansevero (1:37), 16. Tanos (performed by Lino Cannavacciuolo) (4:38), Lost Adriana (2:56). Fenix/Warner Chapell Italia, 53 minutes 23 seconds.


SAATTOKEIKKA – Pessi Levanto

Saattokeikka – aka The Last Detail, or Unexpected Journey – is a Finnish comedy-drama film directed by Samuli Valkama. It stars Heikki Nousiainen and Noah Kin as Veikko and Kamal, a grumpy and intolerant old man and a 16-year-old Kenyan immigrant, respectively, who live in the same block of flats in suburban Helsinki. Veikko want to spend the summer at his home in the country and reluctantly agrees to pay Kamal – who wants money to return home to Nairobi and has just acquired his drivers license – to drive him there. What begins as a journey of convenience slowly becomes something more meaningful during the journey as these two individuals from vastly different backgrounds slowly realize they have more in common than they think.

The score for Saattokeikka is by Finnish composer Pessi Levanto, whose scores for the 2015 films Armi Elää and Wildeye were among the best Scandinavian offerings of that year. His score is effortlessly charming and whimsical, with a dance-like feel and pretty orchestrations. The score is built around a recurring theme for the main character, Veikko, an amusing, bumbling piece for clarinet and pizzicato strings with a waltz-like rhythmic core that perfectly encapsulates both his the grumpy nature, but also his capacity for redemption. It first appears in “Veikka,” and is present throughout much of the rest of the score, including in the second half of “Autolla Häihin,” and in “Veikon Mökillä.”

A second idea is introduced in “Pako Sairaalasta,” and is a lighter, more approachable piece of writing for piano, strings, woodwinds, light chimes, and marimba. It’s dainty, and vaguely comic, with a caper-like quality, and it actually reminds me very much of the music John Williams was writing in the early 1990s, especially scores like The Accidental Tourist and Stanley & Iris.

Elsewhere, “Nooran Luona” is hesitant but vaguely romantic, and features more idyllic writing for strings, piano, and marimba, although it tends to be more textural and rhythmic rather than thematic. “Sydänkohtaus” is a more dramatic cue underscoring a scene where Veikko has a heart attack en-route; it opens with some darkly-hued solo violins, but eventually gives way to more optimistic textures for pianos, hooting woodwinds, chimes, soft strings.

The lovely “End Credits” reprises both main themes – the Williamsy caper theme, and Veikko’s Waltz – although in this cue Levanto allows for a brief appearance from the brass section to give it a more expansive sound. The whole thing is really lovely, one of the more amiable and appealing comedy scores of the year, and yet again showcases the Nordic countries as a fertile source of excellent film music.

Unfortunately, the score for Saattokeikka is not available for commercial purchase, but the seven named cues can be streamed free of charge from Levanto’s personal Soundcloud page, https://soundcloud.com/pessi-levanto, There is also a longer promotional album which Levanto produced for awards consideration purposes, which expands the score to 22 tracks and almost 34 minutes in length, and contains more of the same delightful music, including several variations on Veikko’s Waltz, and one cue (the unpronounceable “Lähtövalmisteluja”) which almost turns into an action cue!

Track Listing: 1. Veikko (1:00), 2. Pako Sairaalasta (2:08), 3. Nooran Luona (2:36), 4. Autolla Häihin (3:08), 5. Sydänkohtaus (3:42), 6. Veikon Mökillä (1:39), 7. End Credits (3:29). Promo, 17 minutes 44 seconds.


SPOOR – Antoni Łazarkiewicz

Spoor [Pokot] is a Polish thriller movie directed by Agnieszka Holland, based on the novel Prowadź Swój Pług Przez Kości Umarłych [Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead] by Olga Tokarczuk. It stars Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka as Janina, an elderly woman living in a remote mountainous region of southern Poland, who repeatedly finds the corpses of hikers and hunters in the valley where she lives. Janina is convinced she knows who the murderer is, but when she tells the local authorities, nobody believes her story. The film was Polish entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards, and was a box office success in Poland for director Holland, who is still well known in the United States for her films Europa Europa and The Secret Garden, as well as for directing episode of acclaimed TV shows like The Wire and House of Cards.

The score for Spoor is by Polish composer Antoni Łazarkiewicz, who previously worked on films such as Copying Beethoven, In Darkness, and the mini-series Rosemary’s Baby for Holland. As befits the nature of the story, this is for the most part a dark score, where the orchestra plays at the lowest ends of its range: slowly churning cellos and basses, low whole notes from trombones and horns, bleating bassoons and oboes, steadily insistent drumbeats. Some of the orchestral textures and chord progressions remind me of composers like Carter Burwell or Howard Shore, and anyone who enjoys journeying into that sort of bleak sonic world will find this to their liking.

However, to his credit, Łazarkiewicz constantly combines these brooding textures with livelier and more engaging rhythmic ideas that allow the music to develop a distinct personality. Much of this is accomplished through the use of interesting percussion; many of the cues feature a different percussion or instrumental sound, ranging from snare drum riffs and scraping violin harmonics in “Into the Hollow,” to rapid tapped percussion ideas, chimes, and high string tremolos in “Horse,” pizzicato techniques, castanets, and choppy strings in “Dizzy” and “Hunt the Hunters,” and tambourines, metallic items, more castanets, and an almost upbeat string line in “Open Season” and ”The Escape.” Some of the string lines – bizarrely – actually remind me of the peppy rhythm that underpins Hans Zimmer’s ‘Zooster’s Breakout’ from his Madagascar scores

Elsewhere, “Fox,” “She-Wolf,” and “Wild Boar” are unusual in that they all contain the an odd combination of orchestral dissonance and vaguely jazzy instrumental phrases, but as they develop they become almost heroic, with a strong solo horn line and thrusting, optimistic string ostinatos in the first, the addition of tortured-sounding fiddles in the second, and the combination of everything in the third. The only moments of real tonal beauty come in cues like “Good News,” from which Łazarkiewicz allows a hesitantly hopeful piano to emerge; “Pheromone,” which features a hesitant, almost romantic accordion; and the unexpectedly light and friendly duo “Ladybug” and “Magpie,” which pair the accordion with a lovely, lilting classical guitar, and a warmly appealing string wash.

Spoor is yet another excellent score from the Polish film music world, which remains a fertile breeding ground for excellent music, significantly punching above its weight in terms of quality vs quantity when compared to other similar-sized movie producing nations. Łazarkiewicz’s successfully music treads that fine musical line that is always required of thrillers, balancing between ominous darkness, action, and juxtaposed lightness, with a score that is especially notable for its inventive percussion ideas and bold rhythmic writing. The score is not available on CD, but is available as a digital download at most online retailers.

Track Listing: 1. Into the Hollow (3:29), 2. Horse (2:05), 3. Dizzy (2:10), 4. Good News (1:26), 5. Open Season (1:13), 6. Poachers (0:58), 7. Pheromone (2:38), 8. Fox (2:50), 9. Tracks in the Snow (3:30), 10. Ladybug (3:43), 11. She-Wolf (2:07), 12. Cucujus Haematodes (1:53), 13. Hunt the Hunters (2:43), 14. Wild Boar (2:53), 15. Magpie (1:44), 16. The Escape (3:43), 17. The Solstice (1:52). Air Edel Records, 41 minutes 08 seconds.


THELMA – Ola Fløttum

Thelma is a Norwegian drama-thriller film written and directed by Joachim Trier. It stars Eili Harboe as the titular character, a shy female college student in contemporary Oslo, who begins to develop romantic feelings for a fellow student, Anja. Thelma is deeply religious and tries to suppress her homosexual emotions and desires, but before long she begins to embrace her new relationship with her beautiful friend; however, in parallel with her expanding sex life and new worldly outlook, Thelma also starts to experience extreme seizures and violent episodes, which eventually manifest themselves as latent supernatural abilities which Thelma struggles to control. The film was a major success at the box office in Norway in 2017, and was one of just a few new Scandinavian movies to crack American cinemas in recent years.

The score for Thelma is by the experienced Norwegian film composer Ola Fløttum, who has scored more than 20 projects across the Nordic countries since making his film music debut in 2003. His work on Thelma, as one might imagine is very much on the dark side, capturing the confusion and anguish the lead character feels as her dark powers emerge. More than anything, Fløttum’s score reminds me of the early work of Howard Shore, especially his writing in the late 1980s and early 1990s, around the time of The Silence of the Lambs. The opening cue, “Prolog,” is a perfect example of this: the way the oppressive brass whole notes and accompanying woodwind chords play against the lighter strings and the electronic sustains creates a mood of overwhelming melodrama; for Thelma, read Hannibal Lecter.

The Howard Shore influences continues through subsequent cues like “Hjem Etter Opera,” “Flashback Part 2,” “Flashback Part 3,” and really come to a head in cues like “Thelma Våkner” and “Thelma Til Huset,” which have a definite religioso quality, especially in the way Fløttum combines the subdued brass orchestral parts with what sounds like a sampled church organ.

The rest of the score is more textural than melodic, but Fløttum finds a way to make his textures interesting. “Thelma og Anja,” for example, uses electronic tones and dream-like violin textures to make the object of Thelma’s desire seem like some unobtainable goal, a magical object beyond human understanding. Elsewhere, the piano and woodwind textures in “På Balkongen” have a wistful quality; “Heksemontasjen” is grating and aggressive, with violin harmonics scraping against the electronics; and “Mor På Broen” briefly adopts a liturgical sound, with a sampled church choir adding a new element to the soundscape. The whole thing is underpinned by a constant, droning synth pedal tone which gives the entire score the feeling of it being somewhat detached from reality.

The six-minute end credits piece, “Thelma (Rulletext),” expands on all the ideas that make up the body score, and provide a soothing, redemptive, but still tonally consistent moment of catharsis and reflection that is actually quite appealing, especially when the ghostly female vocalist enters the fray. Two additional cues – “Thelma’s Theme” and the conclusive “Sister Solaris” – were written and performed by the electronic group Torgny & Soft System, and are more ambient and relaxing than the rest of the score, featuring Vangelis-esque dreamlike synth chords and 1980s-style pop-inspired rhythmic beats.

Some will find the understatement of Fløttum’s score to be a little frustrating; at no point does he ever let loose with a truly memorable theme, or a wash of orchestral grandeur, because it’s not that sort of film, and it doesn’t require that sort of music. I’m not even sure why I like this score as much as I do, considering that I often decry this droning, ambient, subdued music as being insufficient at conveying a film’s intended emotional content. However, despite the fact that Fløttum’s music remains rooted in a fog of dark Nordic melancholy, it perfectly captures the emerging sexuality and terrifying powers of the main character. The score is not available on CD, but can be purchased as a digital download from most online retailers.

Track Listing: 1. Prolog (1:41), 2. Blindern (2:00), 3. Thelma og Anja (2:29), 4. På Balkongen (1:41), 5. Hjem Etter Opera (0:42), 6. Flashback Part 1 (0:38), 7. Forlater Festen (0:36), 8. Thelma’s Theme (performed by Torgny & Soft System) (0:46), 9. Thelma Hos Bestemor (1:10), 10. Flashback Part 2 (0:51), 11. Heksemontasjen (2:27), 12. SSE (1:03), 13. Thelma Ber Part 1 (1:10), 14. Flashback Part 3 (1:44), 15. Mor På Broen (0:27), 16. Thelma Ber Part 2 (1:09), 17. Thelma Våkner (1:13), 18. Thelma Til Huset (1:40), 19. Hjem Fra Hellersmo (1:06), 20. Thelma (Rulletekst) (6:32), 21. Sister Solaris (performed by Torgny & Soft System) (5:06). The Orchard Music, 36 minutes 11 seconds.

  1. superultramegaa
    January 27, 2018 at 7:54 am

    I realize that you’re sick of the Transformers scores, but I’m really curious of what you think of Jablonsky’s 34 track album of Transformers: The Last Knight. I think it’s a major improvement for the scores, especially after Transformers 4, and I was wondering if you had any opinion on it.

  1. January 29, 2018 at 9:00 am

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