Home > Reviews > The World of Film Scores – 2018 First Quarter Round-Up

The World of Film Scores – 2018 First Quarter Round-Up

In a break with my usual convention, I have decided that instead of doing a series of geographical articles at the end of the calendar year highlighting the best under-the-radar film scores, I am instead going to write four quarterly articles which spotlight the same types of scores – unheralded works from outside the Hollywood film music mainstream – but which are spaced throughout the year so that they are more timely in terms of when the films are released. As such, here is the first – a look at ten outstanding scores from the first three months of 2018, encompassing a wide range of projects from all over the world, including works from Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Japan, Spain, China, Russia, and beyond!

 

A CASA TUTTI BENE – Nicola Piovani

A Casa Tutti Bene (in English ‘There’s No Place Like Home’) is an Italian comedy drama directed by Gabriele Muccino, starring Pierfrancesco Favino, Stefano Accorsi, and Carolina Crescentini. It’s a story of families and their problems, and follows the members of a big family who come together at a villa on an idyllic island to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of the elders, grandma Alba and grandpa Pietro. However, when a storm forces the family members – some of whom have not seen each other for quite some time – to stay island longer than intended, long-buried family secrets begin to bubble to the surface.

The score for A Casa Tutti Bene is by the great Italian composer Nicola Piovani. It’s been quite some time since Piovani has had a score with any sort of international profile in the twenty years since he won his Oscar for Life is Beautiful in 1998, but he has continued to be very active in the Italian domestic film music scene, writing three or four scores per year consistently during the period. A Casa Tutti Bene is a perfect reminder of why this great composer should not be overlooked, despite the fact that many of the films themselves remain obscure to audiences outside Italy. His music is tuneful, elegant, and effortlessly charming, a throwback to the 1970s when Italian composers were the most dominant forces in world film music outside the United States.

The score A Casa Tutti Bene was released as an extended soundtrack EP by the Lotus Productions record label, and contains six cues running for just under half an hour. Following on from a delightful classical song, “L’Invenzione di un Poeta” performed by female vocalist Tosca, Piovani’s score generally tends to be gentle and intimate, featuring slow-moving strings and softly beguiling oboe solos, accompanied by guitars, accordions, pianos, and harpsichords. “Una Notte sull’Isola” is an idealized musical depiction of a mellow, sun-dappled piece of heaven in the Mediterranean. “A Casa Tutti Bene” is lyrical and romantic, with a lead melody that effortlessly breezes between guitar and solo violin.

“La Giostrina sull’Isola” has a touch of Fellini-esque farce about it, and a hint of Nino Rota in the dance-like rhythms and bittersweet undercurrent. The conclusive “Un’Altra Notte sull’Isola” returns to the main theme, with several gorgeous extended passages showcasing the poetic guitar performances and the tender piano. “Trailer Dancing” is a piece of source music, livelier but also with a laid back vibe, featuring fun performances from an electric guitar, jazz piano, and a contemporary percussion section. The whole thing is all quite lovely, and well worth exploring for anyone who has yet to dive into Piovani’s work, especially those members of the younger generation who were not immersed into the world of film music when Life is Beautiful was briefly all the rage. There is no physical CD release, but the soundtrack is available to download on most of the main online platforms, including Amazon, and Spotify.

Track Listing: 1. L’Invenzione di un Poeta (featuring Tosca) (3:07), 2. Una Notte sull’Isola (5:06), 3. A Casa Tutti Bene (2:55), 4. La Giostrina sull’Isola (5:12), 5. Un’Altra Notte sull’Isola (7:10), 6. Trailer Dancing (1:07). Lotus Productions, 24 minutes 40 seconds.

 

BANKIER VAN HET VERZET – Merlijn Snitker

Bankier Van Het Verzet is a Dutch drama film directed by Joram Lürsen, set in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam during World War II, which tells the true life story of two brothers – Walraven van Hall and Gijs van Hall – both of whom work for a major bank, and who risk everything when they decide to secretly help fund the Dutch resistance. The film stars Barry Atsma and Jacob Derwig as the two brothers, and has an original score by composer Merlijn Snitker.

Snitker has been active in the Dutch film industry for almost twenty years; initially, he wrote scores with his musical collaborators Melcher Meirmans and Chrisnanne Wiegel, but has recently begun to work as a solo artist, and this new found freedom and independence has clearly borne fruit. Bankier Van Het Verzet is a truly excellent dramatic orchestral score, filled with tension and emotion, occasional moments of suspense and action, and a dash of romance, topped with the familiar righteous heroism that one often hears in period scores about resistance fighters standing up to oppression. The opening cue, “Begint U Nou Maar Eens Bij Het Begin,” sets things up perfectly with a bed of threatening cello chords and a series of hesitant orchestral textures that create a sense of apprehension and danger.

This omnipresent gloom and vague sense of oppressive darkness permeates much of the score, mirroring the mood of the country at that time. The orchestration is classical, using the orchestra to its fullest extent, but thankfully Snitker doesn’t wallow in murkiness relentlessly, often providing moments of powerful action and genuine beauty. “De Zeemanspot” is a little livelier and more playful, with dancing strings and lovely, light woodwind textures; this continues into the title track, “Bankier Van Het Verzet,” which uses a lithe and nimble piano line and complementary strings to illustrate the espionage element of the story. Other cues of note include the jazzy textures in “Een Knoop van 30 Miljoen,” the pretty string and woodwind writing in “Familie Van Hall,” and the noble brass statements in “Van Tuyl”.

Later, “We Moeten Onderduiken” features a darkly beautiful solo piano theme; “De Nederlandsche Bank” adds rattling bass flutes to the instrumental palette to increase the tension quotient; “De Ondergrondse Bank” is full of energy and movement, underpinned by tapped snares and a restless churning string ostinato; “Wally en Gijs” revisits the Van Hall family piano theme with tender intimacy; “Verzetsheld Walraven van Hall” is a moving, emotional violin piece; and the conclusive “Epiloog Bankier van het Verzet” brings the Van Hall theme to its fullest and grandest statement. Perhaps the main criticism one can make of the score is that, like too many works these days, it lacks a truly memorable thematic core – the Van Hall theme is lovely, but a little too understated to leave a significantly positive impression. Overall, though, the score comes highly recommended, especially for listeners who enjoy dramatic period scores use the orchestra in interesting ways. The score is not available on CD, but can be downloaded through Amazon, Spotify, and various other online digital outlets.

Track Listing: 1. Begint U Nou Maar Eens Bij Het Begin (1:39), 2. De Zeemanspot (3:12), 3. Bankier Van Het Verzet (2:01), 4. Een Knoop van 30 Miljoen (2:03), 5. De Kapper en de Fotograaf (3:29), 6. Familie Van Hall (2:01), 7. Van Tuyl (3:53), 8. De Klopcode (1:54), 9. Van den Berg Praat Niet (1:03), 10. We Moeten Onderduiken (1:46), 11. De Nederlandsche Bank (3:20), 12. Ritter Komt Voor de Promessen (1:30), 13. De Olieman (2:18), 14. De Ondergrondse Bank (2:13), 15. Die ganze Schlange (2:05), 16. Een Waardeloos Aandeel (1:40), 17. Wally en Gijs (1:09), 18. Spoorwegstaking (1:05), 19. Het Parool (0:56), 20. Verzetsheld Walraven van Hall (1:50), 21. De Omgevallen Boom (1:59), 22. Epiloog Bankier van het Verzet (2:47). Riva Media Records, 45 minutes 54 seconds.

 

BELLE ET SÉBASTIEN 3: LE DERNIER CHAPITRE – Armand Amar 

The third film in an ongoing of French children’s adventure films based on the novels by Cécile Aubry, Belle et Sébastien 3: Le Dernier Chapitre is directed by Clovis Cornillac and tells the continuing story of 12-year of Sébastien and his beloved dog Belle. In this film, Sébastien finds his idyllic life under threat when his parents decide they want to move away from their beautiful mountain home, and when Belle’s former owner re-appears, wanting to re-claim her. The film stars Félix Bossuet and Tchéky Karyo and has an excellent score by Armand Amar, who has scored all three Belle et Sébastien films to date.

Like its predecessors, the score for Belle et Sébastien 3 is orchestral, theme-filled, and adventurous, but tempered with some more pastoral, thoughtful cues that speak to the film’s idyllic setting in the French Alps, as well as to the central character’s love of nature. The opening cue, “L’Oiseau,” is simply stunning, a rhapsodic piano piece accompanied by graceful strings that capture perfectly the elegance and beauty of the titular bird. A recurring theme begins to emerge as the score progresses, featuring strongly several times thereafter – including “Danger,” the more militaristic “Ils s’Enfuient,” and the daring and purposeful “Cesar As du Volant,” among others.

What stands out most about Belle et Sébastien 3 is the way that Amar creates beautiful textures through different instrumental combinations and performance techniques: lively strings and guitars in “Belle et Sébastien,” sentimental pianos and strings in “Le Mariage,” choral inflections in “Sauvés Par Belle,” underpinned playfully upbeat snares in “Installation au Refuge,” with a hint of 1960s George Delerue jazz in “La 4 Chevaux,” with ubiquitous accordion-led Gallic flavors in “Partie de Rami” and so on. Each cue offers a different variation and a different melodic idea, with something to recommend in each one. Amar is a composer of great precision and sensitivity, with a richly emotional touch, and this is apparent throughout the entirety of the score.

There is darkness and danger too – “Joseph le Fossoyeur, “Joseph Piégé,” “Perdus Dans la Tempête,” “Alba” – and during these cues the score becomes a little more abstract, and a little more dissonant, underpinning threat that Belle’s former owner poses to Sébastien’s friendship. However, Amar really goes for broke in the final three cues, building up to a sensational, sweeping finale in “L’Affrontement Final”, and laying on waves of emotion in “Départ Pour le Canada”. There is so much excellent music to be found here, and anyone who has been impressed with any of Armand Amar’s other works will find much to appreciate. The score is not available on CD, but can be downloaded through Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, and various other online digital outlets.

Track Listing: 1. L’Oiseau (Instrumental) (2:16), 2. Belle et Sébastien (1:29), 3. Le Mariage (2:00), 4. Pierre et Angelina s’en Vont (1:38), 5. Joseph le Fossoyeur (0:50), 6. Danger (1:06), 7. Joseph Piégé (1:15), 8. Ils s’Enfuient (0:56), 9. Perdus Dans la Tempête (3:08), 10. Sauvés Par Belle (2:20), 11. Installation au Refuge (1:31), 12. Les Apprentis Chasseurs (0:54), 13. La 4 Chevaux (1:00), 14. Belle Piégée/L’Oiseau/Belle (3:32), 15. Cesar As du Volant (1:00), 16. Alba (1:36), 17. La Maison du Fossoyeur (1:23), 18. Partie de Rami (1:28), 19. Une Partie Sous Tension (0:55), 20. Les Jeux Sont Faits (1:41), 21. Dans le Cimetière (2:02), 22. L’Affrontement Final (4:38), 23. Départ Pour le Canada (3:31), 24. Belle (Instrumental) (2:35). Long Distance Records, 44 minutes 47 seconds.

                 

HONG HAI HANG DONG [OPERATION RED SEA] – Elliot Leung

Operation Red Sea is a Chinese action adventure film directed by Dante Lam and starring Zhang Yi, Huang Jingyu, and Hai Qing. The story is loosely based on a real incident in which 225 foreign nationals and almost 600 Chinese citizens were rescued from Yemen’s southern port of Aden by the Chinese navy at the outbreak of the 2015 Yemeni Civil War. The score is by the very talented young Hong Kong-based composer Elliot Leung; this is the first score of his I have heard, but on this evidence I’m very impressed.

Broadly, the score can be described as a Chinese take on the contemporary action writing of Hans Zimmer and his Remote Control compatriots, but what I like about Leung’s writing is how much energy and inventiveness it has. It uses a full orchestra and a whole host of throbbing, pulsating electronic loops and beats, but despite the fact that it sits firmly within a now familiar sonic world, Leung does so much with it, rhythmically and thematically. I’m especially impressed with the more large-scale action tracks: cues like “Men of Duty,” “Armed to the Teeth,” “War Zone,” “Ambushed,” and especially “All Hell Breaks Loose,” are just outstanding, full of interesting and unexpectedly creative string ostinatos, unique-sounding electronic elements, and regular outbursts of brass-led power.

One or two cues often moments of orchestral patriotism and pathos, ranging from the emotional solo cello writing in “Am I Worth It?” and “Threnody,” to the bombastic and rousing finale that comprises “The Valiant Fight,” “The Brave Stand Tall,” and “The Strong Vanquish All”. To be fair, there is a decent amount of electronic noodling and orchestral droning too – it’s par for the course in scores like this these days – and it does take a little bit of time to get going, as the first few cues tend to get a little bogged down in Inception-style braahms, chugga chugga cellos, and industrial sound effects. But the highlights are certainly worth waiting for, and more than make up for the deficiencies elsewhere.

I guess the main reason I enjoy Operation Red Sea so much is because this is the sort of stuff I want people like Lorne Balfe and Tom Holkenborg to write for their contemporary action movies, and why I’m so disappointed when those big names so often show such a lack of creativity and musical ambition. Bravo to Elliot Leung for proving that you <I>can</I> write music in that style, but still do it with flair and panache. The score is not available on CD, but can be downloaded through Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, and various other online digital outlets.

Track Listing: 1. Gulf of Aden (1:34), 2. Enter the Sea Dragons (3:54), 3. Men of Duty (3:04), 4. Brotherhood (1:45), 5. Arrival (1:58), 6. Armed to the Teeth (2:12), 7. Naval Commandos (2:28), 8. War Zone (2:11), 9. Only Hope (1:02), 10. Ambushed (4:14), 11. Establishing Overwatch (1:46), 12. Am I Worth It? (1:56), 13. Threnody (1:03), 14. Point of No Return (1:20), 15. All Hell Breaks Loose (3:59), 16. 11th Hour (1:58), 17. Dawn After Dark (1:15), 18. Cornered (2:01), 19. Desert Storm (3:48), 20. The Valiant Flight (2:02), 21. The Brave Stand Tall (1:46), 22. The Strong Vanquish All (3:19). Plaza Mayor Music, 48 minutes 45 seconds.

 

INORI NO MAKU GA ORIRU TOKI [THE CRIMES THAT BIND] – Yugo Kanno     

The Crimes That Bind is a Japanese murder mystery thriller directed by Katsuo Fukuzawa, starring Hiroshi Abe, Junpei Mizobata, and Rena Tanaka. It follows the investigation by a dogged Tokyo police detective name Matsumiya into a young woman’s death, who is found strangled in her apartment. When Koshikawa, the apartment building owner, goes missing, he immediately becomes the prime suspect, but a mysterious clue found near the body gives Matsumiya second thoughts – especially when his partner, Kaga, realizes that the clue has a bizarre connection to the death of his own mother years previously. The score for The Crimes That Bind is by the outstanding young Japanese composer Yugo Kanno, who has impressed recently with scores such as 2014’s Gunshi Kanbee.

Tonally, The Crimes That Bind is a mixed bag, jumping from style to style frequently in a manner that may puzzle western listeners, but Kanno excels at each different element, resulting in a score which is a little odd as a flowing listening experience, but is technically superb across the board. The main theme, “Shinzanmono,” doesn’t get its most significant performance until the ninth cue, and considering the nature of the film will likely strike listeners as the most unusual – it’s a bouncy, playful, almost comedic piece for the full orchestra which jumps around from style to style, eventually emerging into a superb tango-style melody which even features an accordion solo. I have no idea what this has to do with a quite murder mystery, but from a purely musical point of view it’s a blast.

Cues like “Kanashii Hanzai,” “Uso,” “Fukuzatsu De Toraedokoro No Nai Yama,” and “Uso Wa Shinjitsu No Kage” are a little more synth-heavy and mysterious, making use of abstract, glassy electronic textures and occasionally more propulsive, rhythmic writing which blends the orchestra together with defiantly modern-sounding programmed keyboards. Meanwhile, cues like the opening “Dare Mo Watashi Wo Shiranai Machi,” “Fukai Kodoku,” the lovely “Haha No Ayumi,” and the sumptuous “Riyuu” play up the mystery elements of the score with elegant piano writing, moody string textures, and stylish woodwind lines, a winning combination of 1990s Christopher Young and 1990s Howard Shore. “Biwako” uses the brass section prominently, rousing and revelatory; “Tokubetsu Na Omoi” gently adds acoustic guitars and soothing vocals to create a sense of tender intimacy; the thrilling “Tsumi” is the score’s most vivid action cue.

However, for me where the score really excels is in the moments when Kanno really lets his thematic content fly, and he allows the score to explode into rich, beautiful melodies for the full orchestra, awash in cascading strings and rolling piano counterpoint. Much of the second half of the score adopts this style, as the emotional hidden connections between the protagonists are revealed; cues like “Naze,” the operatic “Oyako No Kizuna,” “Namida No Wakare,” and the stunning 8-minute title track “Inori No Maku Ga Oriru Toki” remind us – yet again – that Japanese composers are writing some of the most luscious, emotional film music in the world. The score is available as an import CD from online retailers like Yes Asia, or as a digital download through iTunes, Amazon, and others.

Track Listing: 1. Dare Mo Watashi Wo Shiranai Machi (1:29), 2. Fukai Kodoku (3:07), 3. Haha No Ayumi (2:02), 4. Kanashii Hanzai (4:07), 5. Uso (3:22), 6. Biwako (1:18), 7. Fukuzatsu De Toraedokoro No Nai Yama (2:08), 8. Uso Wa Shinjitsu No Kage (3:42), 9. Shinzanmono – Main Theme (3:38), 10. 12 No Hashi No Namae (2:52), 11. Haha No Shissou (3:03), 12. Riyuu (5:04), 13. Tokubetsu Na Omoi (2:52), 14. Naze (3:26), 15. Tsumi (3:00), 16. Kokoro No Nazo (3:57), 17. Oyako No Kizuna (5:01), 18. Karappo No Saifu (1:50), 19. Namida No Wakare (3:42), 20. Pandora No Hako (3:58), 21. Inori No Maku Ga Oriru Toki (8:10), 22. Anata Ate No Tegami (4:18). Anchor Records, 76 minutes 17 seconds.

                                                                              

LÓI: ÞÚ FLYGUR ALDREI EINN [PLOEY: YOU NEVER FLY ALONE] – Atli Örvarsson

Lói: Þú Flygur Aldrei Einn – translated as Ploey: You Never Fly Alone – has the perhaps unique honor of being the most expensive Icelandic film ever made. It’s an animated adventure for children, directed by Árni Ólafur Ásgeirsson, and tells the story of a young plover bird chick named Ploey who is left behind on his isolated island home when his family migrates south for the winter, because he has not yet learned how to fly. Ploey must battle against the harsh elements of the Arctic, and avoid the threat of predators and other enemies, so that he can be reunited with them the following spring. Plovers are important in Icelandic society – the appearance of the first plover in country means that spring has arrived, and the Icelandic media always covers the first plover sighting – and it looks to a charming story that the whole family can enjoy.

The score for Lói: Þú Flygur Aldrei Einn is by Atli Örvarsson, who has now begun to split his time equally between Iceland and California, and is one of the leading promoters of Icelandic film and film music. Örvarsson says that Lói: Þú Flygur Aldrei Einn is the big, old fashioned, emotional orchestral score he always wanted to write but previously never had the chance, and now that he has been given that chance he delivers in spades. The score is fully orchestral, recorded in Örvarsson’s home town of Akureyri with the Sinfonia Nord and the North Iceland Chamber Choir, and it’s really good: theme filled, charming, whimsical, pretty, occasionally exciting and exhilarating, occasionally a little scary. There’s a little bit of John Powell in here (think How to Train Your Dragon), a little bit of Thomas Newman (think Finding Nemo), a bit of James Horner in some of the string phrasing, and a little bit of Danny Elfman in the woodwind writing, but the overall effect is quite superb.

A beautiful recurring main theme weaves constantly throughout the score; it is first introduced 30 seconds into the “Ploey Overture,” and is initially charming and delicate, but it is afforded several excellent restatements, including in action setting during the second half of the same cue. Other cues of note include the sentimental “Ploey Hatches,” “Meet Ploveria & Skua,” and the gorgeous and sweeping “Top of the Mountain,” all of which feature Ploey’s Theme strongly. A secondary theme, more elemental and mystical, appears during the finale of “Shadow Attacks” and later in the magical “First Snow,” and the emotional and dramatic “I’m Still Alive,” bringing with it an ethereal edge to the score that is quite intoxicating. Örvarsson uses acoustic guitars, ethnic woodwinds, solo violins, and a subtle choir, adding a lovely flavor. The vocal version, performed in the first of the two “You’ll Never Fly Alone” cues, is surprisingly moving.

Later, there are moments of surprisingly robust action and danger, during which Örvarsson brings out his brass section and his percussion rhythms, illustrating that the little bird’s battle for survival is not an easy one when someone is trying to eat you. Cues like the second half of “Bunting Birds,” “Shadow Attacks,” “Giron Needs a Decoy,” “Fox Takes Giron,” and “Shadow’s Lair” are at times quite exhilarating, and may remind some people of George Fenton’s score for Valiant, another animated film about a heroic bird. I’m also very fond of the more ethnic-sounding “Flight School,” which makes terrific use of what appears to be a Nordic fiddle solo.

Some may find the lightly prancing orchestrations, the child-like whimsy, and the occasional diversions into comedy to be a little too ‘twee’ for the liking, but even in those moments the musicianship is excellent, with Örvarsson making the most of his sizeable ensemble. Perhaps the only true curiosities are “Fox Ramsay,” wherein Örvarsson adopts the sound of a contemporary Latin rumba complete with accordions, and “Paradise Valley,” which becomes a reggae-infused rock track during its second half.

I have always felt that Atli Örvarsson has been somewhat unfairly overlooked by a lot of people, and continue to maintain that he is one of the best composers ever to work for Remote Control; scores like Babylon AD, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, and Colette are all excellent works, and are especially worth exploring. However, for me, Lói: Þú Flygur Aldrei Einn is the best score of Örvarsson career to date, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it – this album is a promo prepared for awards consideration, but a full commercial score release is due imminently.

Track Listing: 1. Ploey Overture (4:17), 2. Ploey Hatches (3:21), 3. Bunting Birds (1:55), 4. Meet Ploveria & Skua (3:34), 5. Flight School (1:22), 6. Shadow Attacks (3:43), 7. Time to Fly (3:37), 8. First Snow (3:18), 9. Top of the Mountain (1:53), 10. Giron Needs a Decoy (2:24), 11. You’ll Never Fly Alone – Vocal (3:04), 12. Fox Ramsay (2:44), 13. Fox Takes Giron (3:57), 14. Continue Without Me (2:13), 15. Shadow’s Lair (4:55), 16. I’m Still Alive (2:43), 17. Paradise Valley (3:20), 18. Father’s Feather (2:39), 19. Ploey the Decoy (5:56), 20. Ploey, You Saved Us! (1:36), 21. You’ll Never Fly Alone (2:54). Promo, 65 minutes 35 seconds.

 

MATHILDE – Marco Beltrami 

Mathilde is a lavish historical romantic drama film from Russia, directed by Alexei Uchitel, and starring Michalina Olszańska and Lars Eidinger. Set in the 1890s at the height of the Imperial period, it tells the story of the illicit romance that developed between the heir to the Russian throne, Prince Nikolay Romanov, and Mathilde Kshesinskaya, the principal ballerina of the Saint Petersburg Imperial Theatre – a scandal that threatened the tear at the fabric of the monarchy, considering that the future Tsar Nicholas II had already been betrothed to Alexandra, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

The score for Mathilde is by Marco Beltrami, one of the few American mainstream composers who regularly scores foreign language films, having written for projects in France, Denmark, and even Cambodia over the years. Considering the subject matter and setting of Mathilde one would expect the score to be a lavish, period classical affair, and parts of it do indeed sound like that – but parts of it absolutely do not. I personally find Beltrami’s musical depiction of the opulent decadence of the Russian aristocracy to be the most compelling: the rich, vivid violin solos and bold, lustrous, turbulent orchestral tones of the opening “Twilight of the Empire” set the scene perfectly, while the romance between the two protagonists is lovingly conveyed with roiling pianos and lush strings in cues like “Mathilde and the Balloon Ride,” “Train Kiss,” the melodramatic “Running Away,” and “Dream Kiss”. The expansive, sumptuous statement of “Mathilde’s Theme” in the finale is simply magnificent.

The brief diversions into action music are appropriately engaging and dramatic, with pieces like “Church Chase and Train Crash” and “Obstacle Course” being notable highlights. However, several cues in the middle section drag it down a notch. Parts of the score feel anachronistically contemporary, with synths and even electric guitars coming into the sound palette, giving a few sequences of the score a modernity that stands at odds with the setting and the style of the rest of the production. Furthermore, Beltrami has often shown a frustrating tendency to devolve into drones and somewhat basic-sounding orchestral chords, and he does that again here too; cues like “Fishel’s Holograph,” “Tent Attack,” “Dance Fight” and even “Coronation” feel curiously uninvolving, like placeholder cues waiting for something more interesting to come and replace them.

Overall, Mathilde is a somewhat frustrating mixed bag. When the score is good, it is absolutely outstanding, containing some of the boldest and thematically compelling music Beltrami has written in several years, and they certainly spared no expense in terms of the quality of the ensemble – the score is performed by the Marinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra under the baton of the great Valery Gergiev. However, the lack of consistency, and the rather murky electronic wandering that overtakes the entire middle section of the score keeps it from attaining the highest marks. The score is available as a digital download from Moviescore Media and via the usual streaming sites, and will be released as a CD by Quartet Records later in the year.

Track Listing: 1. Twilight of the Empire (3:55), 2. Mathilde and the Balloon Ride (2:55), 3. Church Chase and Train Crash (3:17), 4. Exposed (3:16), 5. Obstacle Course (2:15), 6. Séance (2:21), 7. Fishel’s Holograph (1:47), 8. Tent Attack (2:09), 9. To Moscow (1:50), 10. Train Kiss (2:00), 11. Bear Attack (2:30), 12. Dance Fight (3:05), 13. Dress Reversal (1:40), 14. Gassing the Raft (5:03), 15. Tent Neckless (2:20), 16. Running Away (2:03), 17. The Fall (1:45), 18. Coronation (2:10), 19. Happiness (2:34), 20. Dark Coronation (2:53), 21. Dream Kiss (3:52), 22. End Credits (2:13), 23. Mathilde’s Theme (2:24). Moviescore Media/Quartet Records MMS-18002, 60 minutes 23 seconds.

 

QUE BAJE DIOS Y LO VEA – Fernando Velázquez

Que Baje Dios y Lo Vea is a Spanish comedy film directed by Curro Velázquez. It follows the adventures of a group of monks living in a small rural monastery, who face eviction from their home when it is bought by a business consortium, who want to turn it into a hotel. With no money and seemingly no hope, all seems lost, until one of the younger monks comes up with an idea: they should form a soccer team and try to win the annual Clericus Cup tournament in held in the Vatican, with the hope that the resulting publicity will help them save their home. The film stars Alain Hernandez, Karra Elejalde, and Macarena García, and has an original score by Fernando Velázquez.

Velázquez isn’t a composer who immediately springs to mind when it comes to comedy, but his efforts on Que Baje Dios y Lo Vea allay any fears one might have. A word it warning: the score does take its time to get going. Much of the first half of the score oscillates between comedic silliness, blatant parody, and unique vignette which do not really do anything to develop a clear tone or style for the score. For example, “El Indiana Jones del Clero” is adventure-thriller music, “Bienvenidos al San Teodosio” is a piece for a sampled church organ, “Bien de Tiki Taka” is an upbeat scherzo for a soccer training montage, “El Primer Partido” is a Tijuana Brass-style piece that is pure farce, while several other cues can be best described as ‘sophisticated mickey mousing’ filled with dainty little woodwind textures and pizzicato strings.

But where the score excels is in its second half, where Velázquez fully embraces the rich, thematic, symphonic sound for which he is best known. Several cues are genuinely outstanding; “Jesús Heredia” feels like a sports movie clash between an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western and Jerry Goldsmith’s Patton (complete with trumpet triplets), “El Emblema de la Cristiandad” is rousing and inspirational; and “Nos Vamos a Roma” has a sense of optimistic purpose and can-do spirit. Meanwhile several other cues adopt a more pastoral, lyrical orchestral style that is quite lovely, notably “Munilla Cotilla,” and “El Hombre de Mi Vida”. Interestingly, the religious aspect of the story is largely downplayed, with the exception of a recurring little instrumental texture involving tolling bells, and a piece of renaissance harpsichord pastiche in “Perrunillas”.

The finale, from “El Foso Vaticano” onwards, is simply magnificent: here, Velázquez puts the Extremadura Symphony Orchestra through its paces with several cues which move seamlessly between inspiring sports action and drama, low-key moments of friendship and camaraderie, hopeful choral spirituality, self-doubt, and eventual roaring triumph. The Jerry Goldsmith influences on the score are plainly apparent in these cues – think Hoosiers or Rudy filtered through Spanish soccer – but this is not a criticism in any way, and Velázquez excels at emulating the best. The way the eponymous track “Que Baje Dios y Lo Vea” builds and builds and eventually emerges into the most glorious statement of the main theme is superb.

I’ve loved Fernando Velázquez’s work ever since in heard my first score by him, El Orfanato, back in 2007, and my admiration has just grown over the years. Que Baje Dios y Lo Vea is a more light-hearted work than the gothic horror scores for which he is best known, but there is still plenty to admire and enjoy, if your are patient enough to wait through the first 20 minutes of gentle comedy until the rousing finale. The score is available on CD and digital download through Quartet Records.

Track Listing: 1. El Indiana Jones del Clero (0:59), 2. Adiós África (1:59), 3. Bienvenidos al San Teodosio (0:51), 4. Estrellita (1:23), 5. La Fe No Paga Facturas (1:38), 6. La Champion Clerum (1:55), 7. Bien de Tiki Taka (2:54), 8. El Primer Partido (1:28), 9. Jesús Heredia (2:52), 10. Munilla Cotilla (2:21), 11. El Emblema de la Cristiandad (1:20), 12. Nos Vamos a Roma (5:09), 13. Hay Descuentos Para Grupos (0:46), 14. Perrunillas (1:44), 15. A Los Romanos Nos Los Merendamos (0:59), 16. El Hombre de Mi Vida (3:08), 17. Papamovil (2:40), 18. Disco Diavolo (1:31), 19. El Foso Vaticano (3:55), 20. Pentecostés (1:28), 21. Munilla de Mi Vida (5:46), 22. Que Baje Dios y Lo Vea (5:01), 23. La Monda (1:27). Quartet Records, 53 minutes 23 seconds.

 

SUPERMARSU [SUPER FURBALL] – Panu Aaltio

In what is possibly the weirdest plot summary in history: Super Furball is a children’s action-adventure comedy film from Finland, directed by Joona Tena, adapted from an award-winning children’s novel by Paula Noronen. It follows the adventures of a teenage schoolgirl named Emilia (Ella Jäppinen), who somehow obtains super-powers from her pet hamster, which she then uses to stand up to bullies at school, and to solve an environmental crisis that poses a danger to her home in Helsinki. The score is by Panu Aaltio, who is probably Finland’s leading film music composer right now, off the back of his astonishing nature documentary scores Tale of a Forest [Metsän Tarina] and Tale of a Lake [Järven Tarina], and his dramatic works on scores like Rölli Ja Kaikkien Aikojen Salaisuus and 95.

What’s so great about Super Furball is how much it is aware of its own absurdity, and goes along with it anyway. Aaltio’s music is fun, energetic, and occasionally quite thrilling, and is anchored by a wonderfully ebullient super-hero main theme that, despite being a parody, is better than many of the themes for the mainstream Marvel and DC super heroes. The main theme is everywhere in the score, and receives several outstanding statements for the full orchestra in cues like “Super Furball Theme,” “Furball Taxi,” “Learning to Fly,” and especially the wonderful “The Hero We All Need”.

Interestingly, Aaltio is able to adapt the main theme for different emotional settings too: on a softly hesitant piano in the “Prologue,” with helter-skelter energy in “Late for School” and “First Meeting,” with a touch of madness in “Emilie’s Transformation,” and several others. I’m especially fond of the stop-start nature of “Superhero Difficulties,” which mimic the teething troubles Emilia undergoes during her first furry, faltering steps.

Where the theme is not present, the score veers between moments of pathos and drama, and moments of near-farcical comedy. Much of the dramatic writing depicts Emilia’s school life and her interaction with the bullies (“Ominous Signs,” “Friends,” and “A Talk With Dad”), as well as the film’s unusual sub-plot which addresses the shrinking population of herring fish in the Baltic Sea (“Herring Here, Herring Everywhere,” “Underwater,” “The Herring Chief,” “A Herring Plan”). In these cues Aaltio makes use of sensitive-sounding pianos and softer string writing for the former ideas, and lightly prancing pizzicato ideas for the latter.

Some of the comedy writing might come across as being a little too childish and mickey-mousey for some tastes, but there is a fun little motif that appears in several which has an occasional hint of early Danny Elfman to it, especially in some of the lively woodwind writing. Overall, though, this is yet another example of the point I make over and over again: that some of the best film music in the world is being written in out-of-the-way places like Finland, and that anyone tired of the pervasive Hollywood blandness should be pro-active and seek scores like this out. It is available as a digital download from Moviescore Media – who have been championing Aaltio’s music for years – and via the usual streaming sites, and will be released as a CD by Quartet Records later in the year.                                   

Track Listing: 1. Super Furball Theme (0:55), 2. Prologue (1:47), 3. Main Title (1:53), 4. Late for School (1:45), 5. Two Homes and a Running Wheel (1:48), 6. Ominous Signs (3:09), 7. Furball Taxi (3:49), 8. Friends (2:28), 9. Herring Here, Herring Everywhere (2:14), 10. Emilia’s Transformation (3:08), 11. First Meeting (2:15), 12. Superhero Difficulties (1:46), 13. Learning to Fly (1:18), 14. Underwater (4:48), 15. The Herring Chief (1:55), 16. A Talk with Dad (1:38), 17. Bath Tub (1:48), 18. Town in Crisis (2:09), 19. The Water Park (3:14), 20. A Herring Plan (3:04), 21. Bullies (1:12), 22. The Hero We Need (5:55), 23. Classroom Courage (1:25), 24. Clean Water (2:06). Moviescore Media/Quartet Records MMS-18001, 57 minutes 34 seconds.

 

WILD – Matthijs Kieboom

Wild is a Dutch documentary film directed by Luc Enting, set in the Hoge Veluwe National Park, one of the Netherlands most important nature reserves. As well as containing several notable buildings – including the Kröller-Müller Museum, which houses a lavish art collection featuring important works by Van Gogh, Picasso, and Rodin – the park is also home to a rich variety of animal life, including deer, wild boar, foxes, badgers, pine marten, and <I>mouflon</I> wild sheep. Wild takes a closer look at these animals and their lives over the course of a year. The score for Wild is by Dutch composer Matthijs Kieboom, who impressed me enormously last year with his score for the children’s film Dummie de Mummie en de Tombe van Achnetoet, and continues to do so here.

Kieboom’s score is a rich and colorful work which makes full use of the orchestra. He describes three main character themes – one for a boar which is ‘rude and playful,’ one for a deer which is ‘elegant and majestic’, and one for a fox which is ‘crafty and dangerous’ – that are brought together by an overarching main theme heard in the first cue, “The Veluwe,” which is idyllic and evocative and just a little mysterious, redolent of mist-shrouded forests and open plains. Kieboom also depicts the changing of the seasons with clever shifts in orchestration as the score progresses, adding subtle chimes and more metallic ideas for winter, allowing spring to burst forth with woodwind-led energy, capturing the height of summer with guitars and bright strings, and giving the autumn more rugged, earthier tones for slightly more prominent brass.

In a score full of highlights, several cues stand out. “The Winter Hunt and The Deers” and “Squeakers” both have a splash of Thomas Newman-esque energy. “The Wild Boar” combines elegant, orchestral textures with a lighthearted bassoon motif. “New Life” is pretty and delicate, but filled with magic and wonderment. “Lack of Attention” features a warm acoustic guitar solo. The opening moments of “The Hunt: Part 1 – Playing Deers” feature some unexpectedly bold and powerful action music. “Flies and Dragonflies” is effervescent and full of movement, a wonderful combination of woodwinds and xylophones. “The First Flight” is an emotional highlight, a majestic orchestral piece full of a sense of freedom and spaciousness. “Lucanus Cervus” – the stag beetle – is another action cue, replete with throbbing brass and bold, vivid string runs. “Seduction,” as one might expect, becomes almost romantic as it develops.

Wild is a wonderful documentary score, and will especially appeal to fans of Panu Aaltio’s pair of Finnish nature scores – Tale of a Forest [Metsän Tarina] and Tale of a Lake [Järven Tarina] – alongside which this can sit as a companion piece of equal quality. Kudos should also go to record label Moviescore Media and producer Mikael Carlsson for, yet again, championing superb young orchestral composers and bringing their work to a wider audience. The score is available as a digital download from MMS and via the usual streaming sites, and will be released as a CD by Quartet Records later in the year.

Track Listing: 1. The Veluwe (4:02), 2. Bathing Birds (1:32), 3. The Winter Hunt and The Deers (2:50), 4. Antler and Father Boar (2:16), 5. Squeakers (1:58), 6. Dung (1:07), 7. The Wild Boar (1:50), 8 New Life (2:27), 9. A Change of Seasons: Part 1 – Spring (1:07), 10. Lack of Attention – Death (2:19), 11. The Hunt: Part 1 – Playing Deers (2:53), 12. Fishing (1:40), 13. Family Fox (2:11), 14. Young and Vulnerable (1:06), 15. Flies and Dragonflies (1:43), 16. A Change of Seasons: Part 2 – Summer (0:46), 17. Catching Ants (1:23), 18. The Hunt: Part 2 (1:24), 19. The Longest Day, the Shortest Night (2:11), 20. The First Flight (2:17), 21. Antlers Dance (1:22), 22. Berries and Spreading Wings (3:04), 23. Lucanus Cervus (1:40), 24. Falling Acorn (1:07), 25. Hatching Eggs and Leaving the Nest (3:06), 26. A Change of Seasons: Part 3 – Autumn (2:59), 27. Measuring Strength (3:57), 28. Seduction (2:49), 29. A Change of Seasons: Part 4 – Winter (2:26), 30. Wild Credits (3:21). Moviescore Media/Quartet Records MMS-18006, 64 minutes 05 seconds.

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  1. March 31, 2018 at 3:56 am

    This is a cool list and a great idea. I hope that you will give the German score „Die Kleine Hexe“ some attention in your next list.

  2. Scott W Weber
    March 31, 2018 at 7:36 am

    As always, thank you for your posts like this, bringing out scores I would never have heard about otherwise!

  3. April 2, 2018 at 11:36 am

    Elliot Leung here – a colleague of mine stumbled upon this and sent it to me. Thank you for kind words and review. It’s very well written and musically informed. I have more blockbuster scores coming to the market next year, hope you’d enjoy them too!

  4. M
    April 30, 2018 at 5:45 am

    I don’t agree with some of the choices here but man, “Mathilde” might best thing I’ve heard form Beltrami. Thanks for discovering that one.

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