Home > Reviews > Under-the-Radar Round Up 2019, Part III

Under-the-Radar Round Up 2019, Part III

October 15, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

I am pleased to present the third installment in my ongoing series of articles looking at the best “under the radar” scores from around the world in 2019. Rather than grouping the scores on a geographical basis, this year I decided to again simply present the scores in a random order, and so this third batch includes reviews of four more disparate scores from the first nine months of the year – including two magnificent nature documentaries from Germany and Romania, a swashbuckling adventure score from a Spanish animated film, and a gritty 1970’s inspired action-thriller score from a historical Spanish drama!

 

ELCANO & MAGALLANES: LA PRIMERA VUELTA AL MUNDO – Joseba Beristain

Elcano & Magallanes: La Primera Vuelta al Mundo is a Spanish language animated adventure film directed by Ángel Alonso. It’s a kid-friendly introduction to the real life adventurers Ferdinand Magellan and Juan Sebastián Elcano, who between them completed the first circumnavigation of the globe between 1519 and 1522, although much of the murder, mutiny, starvation, and death has been excised in favor of the heroism and scientific discovery the crews displayed. The film features the voices of Kiko Jáuregui and Iñaki Beraetxe in the title roles, and has a superb original score by the young Spanish composer Joseba Beristain

Beristain’s score is a rich and dynamic orchestral work performed by the prestigious Basque National Orchestra and conducted by the great Fernando Velázquez. It is anchored by a sparkling main theme, adventurous and exciting, which receives its first performance in the opening cue “Llegando a Sevilla,” as well as in subsequent tracks such as “Es un Loco,” the more subdued “Capitán Elcano,” and the thrilling “Escapando de Cabo Verde.” When Beristain brings in a choir to augment the orchestra in pieces like “La Gran Aventura” and the conclusive “La Primera Vuelta al Mundo” the effect is quite stunning. The whole thing has that bold, swashbuckling sound associated with Golden Age composers like Korngold and Alfred Newman, which was later adopted by the likes of John Debney on Cutthroat Island; it never comes close to attaining the heights achieved by those classic works, but it’s nevertheless wonderful to hear a composer being so un-restrained with his emotions.

The rest of the score, where the main theme is not present, is just as good; there are numerous sub-motifs and themes, moments of tension and mystery, and some creative ad dynamic action music. I’m especially fond of cues such as the more playful and comedic “Alistando” with its mischievous woodwind lines, the slightly sinister and sneaky writing for the duplicitous crewmember Yago in “Yago y Dacosta” and the two “Conspiración” cues, the pretty romance of cues like “Preparados” and the lush “Partiendo de las Molucas,” the ethnic percussion and woodwind writing that comes in to give cues like “Brasil” and “Mactan” a touch of exotic specificity, the stark and unsettling choral tones that give “Estrecho de Magallanes” a sense of impending doom, and the religioso choral sounds of “Cena en Cebú” and “Muerte de Magallanes”.

Perhaps best of all are the bold and bombastic action cues, the standouts of which include “A la Cárcel,” “No Huyas,” the enormously impressive “Motín,” “El Cabo de las Tormentas,” the expansive “La Gran Batalla,” which takes many of the ideas introduced in the score and allows them to grow to their most impressive and imposing. Anyone who likes that big, symphonic sound with bold strokes and exciting rhythmic ideas will find themselves gravitating towards these cues with regularity.

For most people this will be their introduction to the music of Joseba Beristain, a 41-year-old composer from the Basque region of Spain; most of his work prior to this score was on short films and TV documentary series. However, on the strength of this score, he clearly has the talent and skill to join the ever-growing list of outstanding composers from the Iberian peninsula. The soundtrack for Elcano & Magallanes was released as a limited edition CD by Quartet Records, and is also available as a digital download from most good online retailers.

Track Listing: 1. Llegando a Sevilla (1:33), 2. Sevilla (0:27), 3. Magallanes (1:24), 4. Alistando (3:59), 5. Es un Loco (1:33), 6. A la Cárcel (0:50), 7. Pigafetta (0:26), 8. No Huyas (1:51), 9. Yago y Dacosta (1:41), 10. Preparados (1:13), 11. La Gran Aventura (2:00), 12. Farolas (0:55), 13. Las Indias de América (0:45), 14. Brasil (0:57), 15. Conspiración 1 (1:14), 16. Hacia el Sur (0:52), 17. Conspiración 2 (1:05), 18. El Hielo (1:11), 19. Motín (6:39), 20. Estrecho de Magallanes (3:10), 21. Peces Voladores (0:37), 22. Cena en Cebú (0:41), 23. Asedio (0:33), 24. Mactan (1:59), 25. Muerte de Magallanes (0:50), 26. Capitán Elcano (1:22), 27. Elcano y Shamar (1:11), 28. Dacosta (0:17), 29. Shamar y Elcano (0:49), 30. Partiendo de las Molucas (1:27), 31. Pan, Queso y Hambre (0:42), 32. El Cabo de las Tormentas (3:26), 33. Llegando a Cabo Verde (2:06), 34. Escapando de Cabo Verde (1:12), 35. La Gran Batalla (3:40), 36. La Primera Vuelta al Mundo (1:25). Quartet Records QR-390, 56 minutes 02 seconds.

 

FINIS TERRAE – Christoph Zirngibl

Finis Terrae is yet another one of 2019’s outstanding documentary scores. Directed by Konstantin Ferstl, the film is an examination of the political and social status of the world and how it has changed over the last 100 years. It explores numerous issues during its running time, including the impact of Fidel Castro on Cuba and the Kim family on North Korea, the ecological issues facing our climate and environment, the remnants of the Hapsburg Empire in Europe, the dual philosophies of communism and capitalism, and much more besides. The score is by the outstandingly talented young German composer Christoph Zirngibl, who some may remember from his work on scores such as Neues vom Wixxer (2007), Jerry Cotton (2010), Victory Day (2011), Das Haus der Krokadile (2012), Trans Bavaria (2012), Die Vierte Macht (2012), and Männerhort (2014).

In the press material provided by the record label, Zirngibl explains that his most difficult task was ‘how to transfer the emotional impact of a political movement into a musical narrative’. As such, he wrote three different themes for the different narrative threads; a “hope theme” for the hopes and dreams of people who are or were living under communist regimes, a “landscape theme” which deals with the importance of buildings and special places in those regimes (such as the Berlin Wall), and an overarching main theme which ties the framework of the film together. Although mostly orchestral, the use of solo voices and choir is also an important element, which Zirngibl describes as ‘accentuating the importance of the regular people while also linking to the importance of faith in the framework plot.’

The score is performed by the Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg with the Filmchor Berlin, and features soprano solo vocals by Ekaterina Mamysheva and features solo performances by a hammered dulcimer, guitars, cello, and violin. After the magical, wondrous orchestral-combo of the superb “Prologue,” the Main Theme quickly establishes itself as the anchor of the title cue “Finis Terrae,” through a beautiful and soulful combination of solo piano, voices, and strings. The melody has an almost hymnal quality which is very appealing, and subsequent performances of the theme at the end of “Frozen Time,” in the sweeping “Was It All For Nothing,” and in the beautiful “End Titles” are suitably emotional, although the choral section does keep threatening to break into a performance of ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

The Hope Theme can be heard prominently at beginning of “The Secret City,” and is often heard performed by either the choir or Mamysheva’s vocals, accentuated by solo harp, dulcimer, and orchestra in a quietly uplifting style that again brings a deep emotional quality to the score. The Landscape Theme features strongly in “Through a Vanished Country“ and is a more determined, forceful theme carried first by solo piano, then by a searing solo cello, underpinned by an undulating repetitive string figure that becomes quite mesmerizing in character as the cue develops, eventually turning into a contemporary minimalist anthem. These arrangements continue into the haunting and powerful “The Forgotten Revolution,” which is carried much more noticeably by guitars.

I like the way “According to Badiou” deconstructs and becomes more chaotic and dissonant as it develops. I love the martial, patriotic, imperialist extravaganza of “What Is To Be Done”. The cello performances in “Weary Dreams” have an elegance to them that is immensely appealing and evocative. And the warm horn writing towards the end of in “Requiem for a Century” is just superb, especially for a Yorkshireman who grew up hearing those sorts of harmonies from local colliery brass bands.

2019 continues to be a superb year for documentary features, and Finis Terrae makes a strong case to be one of the best. As is often the case with scores released by Moviescore Media, this is likely to be one of the first Christoph Zirngibl scores people will have heard, and I hope it encourages people to track down works in his existing filmography, and continue to have him on their radar going forward, because he is clearly enormously talented. The score is available as a digital download from Moviescore Media and via most online retailers, and is likely to be released as a physical CD sometime later in the year.

Track Listing: 1. Prologue (3:50), 2. Finis Terrae (3:09), 3. According to Badiou (2:55), 4. What Is To Be Done (1:21), 5. The Secret City (3:54), 6. Frozen Time (2:58), 7. Weary Dreams (3:35), 8. Through A Vanished Country (5:58), 9. The Forgotten Revolution (3:02), 10. Requiem For A Century (3:30), 11. Coppelia (3:09), 12. Was It All For Nothing (4:17), 13. End Titles (2:31). Moviescore Media MMS-19024, 44 minutes 11 seconds.

 

SORDO: THE SILENT WAR – Carlos Martín Jara

Sordo: The Silent War is a historical action film set in Spain in 1944, just as World War II is coming to an end. Inspired by the Allied victory over fascism, a Spanish guerilla group decides to return from exile and attempt to overthrow General Franco. However, an explosion during an attack on a Spanish bridge leaves Rojas, one of the soldiers, completely deaf; in the aftermath of this failed mission, Rojas is pursued across the country by the dogged Captain Bosch, who will stop at nothing to bring Rojas to justice. The film is directed by Alfonso Cortés-Cavanillas, stars Asier Etxeandia as Rojas, and has a spectacular original score by composer Carlos Martín Jara.

Martín has already written several outstanding scores in his comparatively short career, including the TV series Reinas, and the documentary Otros Mundos, but as good as they were Sordo may be his most sophisticated score yet. He tackles Rojas’s story like a Spaghetti Western and writes music with stylistics and mannerisms similar to those great 1970s war scores that people like Morricone and Jerry Goldsmith used to write – all tense, tight percussion and nervous energy, but with the added bonus of several moments of soaring, heartfelt thematic emotion.

The main theme, as heard in the opening cue “Sordo,” is a superb combination of searching strings, lonely solo trumpets, and agitated textures for fluttering woodwinds and metallic percussion, which quickly develops into a brilliant and anguished-sounding march underpinned with clattering snare drums, and enhanced with thunderous, sweeping orchestral textures. It’s so unexpected to hear this sort of music being written in 2019, with arrangements that are so rich and vivid and creative, and Martín should be commended for doing something so different. The subsequent statements of the theme in cues like “The Bridge” are outstanding.

That heartfelt emotion is built around “Rosa’s Theme,” which is written for the woman who Rojas turns to in his hour of need, and a gorgeous combination of lyrical oboes underpinned by soft, melting tones that move around the orchestra with lush sensitivity. Its arrangement in “Deaf in the Night” cleverly makes the same melody feel agitated, and perhaps even a little broken, while the melodic switch from strings to warm horns in “Rosa and Anselmo” gives the whole thing yet another a new dimension.

Throughout the score Martín augments his orchestral passages with unusual percussive and rhythmic ideas, including dulcimers and cimbaloms, wood blocks, xylophones, anvils, and other plucked and struck items, which gives his music an edgy feel that is appropriate and engaging. Then there are moments – such as in “Arrival to the Town” – where Martín pits incredibly high piccolos against the lowest tubas, creating a wholly unique sonic atmosphere. It’s all seriously impressive, and as the score progresses there are numerous standout moments. The dark, moody flute writing in “Bosch and the Wolf” adds a lonely, haunted quality. The nervous, ticking percussion and staccato orchestral rhythms in cues like “Let Him Be, Sergeant” and “The Bandit the Horse and the Knight” are all about tension and anticipation. The inclusion of electronic textures to enhance the menacing muted trumpets and throbbing percussion in “The Pleasure of Killing an Enemy” is unexpected but brilliant. “Hunting Rojas” is a chase cue of great intensity, percussive and rambunctious with crashing pianos and an unusual woodwind texture at its core.

“Darya,” “Broken Inside,” and “Take the Art Out of its Den” all both include a chanting choir, which at times gives the score a brief echo of Wojciech Kilar. “Luna Serena” includes the sound effects of gunfire and men marching to war and death, augmented by hard rock electric guitars. The chord progressions and solo trumpet performances in the gorgeous “Meeting” feel like John Barry. The searing cello solo in “Claudillo” is just heartbreaking. The conclusive “Do Not Look, Rosa” is an emotional rollercoaster of thematic beauty. Even the source music and songs on the album are good, especially the original song “Simplemente Perfecto” performed with gravel-throated intensity by the Spanish rock band Mastodonte.

I name-dropped both Ennio Morricone and Jerry Goldsmith earlier, and the comparisons to those composers are incredibly apt. The level of creativity that Martín shows with Sordo is enormously impressive, and recalls some of the most innovative action and western scoring of those two legendary composers. Carlos Martín Jara is quickly developing into one of the most exciting young composers in the Spanish film industry, proving yet again (as if more proof were needed) that some of the best film music in the world is coming from that region. The score is available as a digital download from Moviescore Media and via most online retailers, and is likely to be released as a physical CD sometime later in the year.

Track Listing: 1. Sordo (3:28), 2. Rosa’s Theme (3:02), 3. Bosch and the Wolf (1:39), 4. Let Him Be, Sergeant (1:36), 5. The Bridge (2:48), 6. Arrival to the Town (2:58), 7. The Bandit, the Horse and the Knight (2:55), 8. Dead in the Night (1:34), 9. Don’t Move (3:11), 10. The Pleasure of Killing an Enemy (2:34), 11. Hunting Rojas (1:35), 12. Rosa and Anselmo (2:14), 13. Darya (2:16), 14. A Girl Who Knew How to Shoot (3:08), 15. I Hate Women Like You (3:42), 16. Meeting (2:08), 17. Broken Inside (3:43), 18. Friend (5:36), 19. Dreams (1:59), 20. Take the Art Out of its Den (3:04), 21. Caudillo (1:05), 22. Luna Serena (1:54), 23. Do Not Look, Rosa (3:14), 24. San Martín (performed by Aurelio Rodriguez del Rio) (3:38), 25. Simplemente Perfecto (performed by Mastodonte) (6:37). Moviescore Media MMS-19028, 71 minutes 51 seconds.

 

UNTAMED ROMANIA – Nainita Desai

Untamed Romania [România Neîmblânzitã] is a documentary feature film which looks at natural landscape of that country, from the mysterious Carpathian Mountains to the ancient forests and expansive wetlands that provide home and shelter to dozens of native species of flora and fauna, including bears, lynx, wolves, wild boar, golden eagles, and numerous other bird and insect species. The film was directed by Tom Barton-Humphreys, narrated by Mark Strong, and has an original score by British composer Nainita Desai, performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

Desai has been working solidly in the UK since the early 2000s, and specializes in documentaries; she has written music for well over 100 projects since the turn of the millennium, but is undergoing something of a career purple patch at the moment off the back of scores like The Confessions of Thomas Quick, Enemy Within, the video game title Telling Lies, and the critically acclaimed documentary For Sama, all of which have been released as commercial soundtrack albums. However, as good as those scores are, Untamed Romania is for me her current standout work

The press release for the score states that Untamed Romania is ‘brimming with charm, uplifting themes, and orchestral colors,’ and Desai’s music is indeed all that, and more. It is, by turns, dramatic, sweeping, intimate, playful, and evocative, making excellent use of the entire orchestra to capture the majesty of the location and the intimacy of the creatures the movie follows through four seasons. There is a beautiful, soaring main theme, sometimes featuring a solo vocalist, which appears in the opening cue and again in subsequent pieces such as “Legend of the Fire Salamander, the balletic “Bear Mischief,” the stunning “The Carpathians,” the expansive “Magnificent Beast,” and the conclusive “This Glorious Land”.

There are effervescent piano textures, solo violin lines, and unusual chittering vocal ideas in the lovely “A Chrysalis Awakes”. There are intense, roaring brass clusters in the action-packed “Wild Boars”. There is delicacy and elegance in the pretty string and woodwind writing in “Springtime in Carpathia”. Elsewhere, there are vague French overtones from an accordion in the mischievous “Lynx Cubs,” rolling piano phrases and luxurious cymbal clashes in “The Danube,” more intense action in “Chicks in Danger,” swooning and languid strings in “Lazy Summer Days,” retro electronic sounds n “Mayfly Season,” and so much more besides… and that’s all within the first half hour! There’s even a little nod to Alan Silvestri’s riff from The Avengers in “Bears vs Wolves” that put a great big smile on my face the first time I heard it.

There are so many delights to be found in this outstanding score, that it would be very easy to list every cue, but redundant to do so. Suffice to say, Untamed Romania contains more vibrant orchestral textures, more fascinating tonal shifts, more sequences of emotional resonance, and more moments of great beauty and delicacy than most scores can muster in twice the time, and it’s to Desai’s immense credit that she keeps the music as fresh and suspiring for as long as she does, without ever really repeating herself.

Untamed Romania played in theaters in Romania in 2018, but was not released outside that country until 2019, which is why I am reviewing it here now (and is what also makes it eligible for awards consideration in 2019). The nature documentary has been going through something of a renaissance lately, with scores like Benjamin Wallfisch’s Hostile Planet, Matthijs Kieboom’s Wild, and Steven Price’s Our Planet sitting at the top of the tree in terms of quality and scope. Untamed Romania is more than the equal of those scores, and firmly establishes Nainita Desai as a composer worth following in years to come. The score is available as a digital download from Silva Screen Records,and via most online retailers, and is likely to be released as a physical CD sometime later in the year.

Track Listing: 1. Untamed Romania (3:04), 2. Sleeping Giants 1 (2:17), 3. A Chrysalis Awakens (2:08), 4. Wild Boars (3:12), 5. Springtime in Carpathia (1:42), 6. Wolves in Carpathia (1:08), 7. Legend of The Fire Salamander (2:28), 8. Lynx Cubs (1:11), 9. The Danube (2:53), 10. Chicks in Danger (2:46), 11. Flowers in Bloom (1:39), 12. Bear Mischief (1:01), 13. Curious Bear Cubs (1:12), 14. Graceful Pelicans (1:19), 15. Catch The Mayfly (1:20), 16. Ancient Histria (0:54), 17. Lazy Summer Days (1:09), 18. Mayfly Season (2:08), 19. The Carpathians (1:46), 20. Golden Eagle Hunting Ground (2:23), 21. The Apuseni Mountains (1:17), 22. Eagle Chicks (1:11), 23. Bear Antics (0:37), 24. Magnificent Beast (1:51), 25. Lush Meadows (1:11), 26. Strange Caterpillars (1:19), 27. Stork Delivery (1:30), 28. Apples and Bears (1:08), 29. Autumn Approaches (2:27), 30. Piatra Craiului Ridge (1:03), 31. Bears vs Wolves (2:36), 32. The Chamois (1:29), 33. The Lynx (1:37), 34. Sleeping Giants 2 (1:08), 35. This Glorious Land (0:45). Silva Screen SILED-1600, 58 minutes 49 seconds.

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