Home > Reviews > Under-the-Radar Round Up 2020, Part I

Under-the-Radar Round Up 2020, Part I

With the COVID-19 Coronavirus having decimated the 2020 theatrical movie schedule, as well as the general mood of the world, good music is more important than ever when it comes to getting us all through these difficult times. As such (and as I did last year under much different circumstances) I am very pleased to present the latest installment in my ongoing series of articles looking at the best “under the radar” scores from around the world – this time concentrating on the first quarter of 2020!

The titles include romantic comedies from both China and Vietnam, children’s fantasy films from both Germany and France, a serious drama from Japan, a period murder-mystery from Australia, and a children’s adventure from the Netherlands. I heartily recommend all of these scores to anyone who needs some outstanding film music to ease them though their quarantine period!

 

ADORING – Nicolas Errèra

Adoring – known as Chong Ai in its native Mandarin – is a Chinese romantic comedy-drama film directed by Larry Yang Zi and starring Yu Hewei and Leo Wu. Sort of like a Love Actually with dogs and cats, it tells a series of interconnected stories in which six modern Chinese twenty-somethings find love as a result of being pet owners, and their repeated patronage of a pet adoption center. It’s a charming, heartwarming story that was a popular success at the Chinese box office in the early months of 2020, and is helped immeasurably by the completely lovely score by French composer Nicolas Errèra.

Errèra is one of those surprising European and American composers who, like Mark Chait and Christopher Wong, have found a niche for themselves writing music almost exclusively for Far Eastern productions. Errèra has already scored a number of Chinese films – Shaolin, The White Storm, Mountain Cry – and Adoring is his latest excellent effort.

The main theme – as heard in the opening cue “Adoring” – is a gorgeous piano melody backed by a lush waterfall of strings, that then transfers to a truly sublime rendition for solo cello, and then the full orchestra. It’s a little bittersweet at times, possibly with an underpinning of regret, but the whole thing is just beautiful, probably the best theme I have yet heard Errèra write. The whole score continues with very much this vein, with similar orchestrations throughout. Subsequent cues introduce different melodic ideas, each as beautiful as the first. Cues like “Seven,” “Leyun and Nan,” and “Lot of Pain” are just heavenly, but with an underlying hint of sadness.

Other cues introduce new instrumental ideas; classical guitars in “Barton” and “Daughter and Father Pt. 1,” more contemporary piano phrasing in “Cross the Street,” Bolero-style rhythms and more guitars in “Slaughterhouse,” a more strident and intense rhythmic beat in “Bell and the Thieves,” lighter and comedic tones for pizzicato strings and woodwinds and accordions in “Opening,” dirty jazz in “This is a Pig,” and so on. There isn’t a moment in the score where Errèra isn’t hitting the listener with a charming new idea, often built around the recurring main theme as a melodic core, and it’s all excellent.

Chinese films, much like their Korean and Japanese and Vietnamese counterparts, are not afraid of washing their movies in scores filled with beauty and melody, and this is something I am very thankful for; it means that people like me, who crave that sort of emotional connection, have an outlet far away from the synth drones and percussion loops. Adoring is one of those types of scores. The album is available from Milan Records, and as a stream and/or download from all good online retailers.

Track Listing: 1. Adoring (3:16), 2. Seven (2:36), 3. Barton (1:44), 4. Cross the Street (1:54), 5. Slaughterhouse (2:58), 6. Daughter and Father Pt. 1 (3:46), 7. Ring (1:30), 8. Leyun and Nan (2:32), 9. Blind (1:21), 10. Lot of Pain (3:27), 11. Bell and the Thieves (1:39), 12. Daughter and Father Pt. 2 (1:26), 13. Hulu and Mr. Gao (1:21), 14. Opening (2:11), 15. Cartoonist’s Romance (1:54), 16. This Is a Pig (2:33), 17. Looking for Barton (1:57), 18. Daughter and Father (1:29), 19. Bell (1:39), 20. Adoring Pt. 2 (1:11). Milan Records, 42 minutes 33 seconds.

 

FUKUSHIMA 50 – Taro Iwashiro

Fukushima 50 is a serious, emotional Japanese drama directed by Setsuro Wakamatsu, which tells the harrowing true story of what happened to the workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and how they risked their lives to stay at the plant and prevent its destruction in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan in 2011. The film stars Ken Watanabe – who will be familiar to western audiences for his roles in films like The Last Samurai and Inception – as well as Koichi Sato and Hidetaka Yoshioka, and it has a score by one of Japan’s most respected film composers, the great Taro Iwashiro.

The score is performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Choristers of the Temple Church, with special performances by piano virtuoso Ryu Goto, cellist Yoko Hasegawa, flautist Eliza Marshall, and vocalists Alex McSweeney, Lucas Byng, and Naomi Nakahara, and it is – in a word – stunning. The soundtrack album is split into two parts; the first is a four-movement 20-minute “Symphonic Suite in F” which introduces the score’s main recurring ideas. Iwashiro’s approach is a tried and tested one, and that is to drown the movie in sweeping beauty, in such a way that the themes of sacrifice, heroism, and loss inherent in the movie become deeply emotional. The whole thing is awash in superb solo cello performances, heavenly choral outbursts, rhapsodic piano lines, and moving orchestral crescendos, all anchored by a strong a memorable recurring theme.

Some of the interplay between the instruments is beautifully expressive and colorful – the duet for gentle woodwinds and a soft choir singing ‘hallelujah’ in the second chapter, “A Gift,” is just gorgeous and has an unexpected medieval-ish sound; the solo piano version of the main theme at the beginning of the third chapter, “Operation Tomodachi,” has a contemporary edge that edges towards classical pop, while the snare drum riffs in the finale give it a militaristic edge; the lush and florid string writing in fourth chapter, “Home Country Evermore,” just sparkles.

The second part is a 27-minute series of cues from the score proper, most of which are based around ideas from the Symphonic Suite. The main theme is present throughout, as are the various instrumental solos from the suite, but one or two cues stand out as being noteworthy variances. The gentle piano variation on the main theme in “In Memoriam F” is just lovely, and the emotional heights the whole thing scales in the conclusive “Dear 50” are just magnificent. However, perhaps most unexpected of all is the fact that, at the beginning of “Be With Danny Boy,” the choir bursts forth with a rendition of the traditional Irish folk song of the same name accompanied by bagpipes and with the main theme on counterpoint; the in-context significance of this is unclear, but the musical effect is as excellent as it is surprising!

Japanese film music has been gradually positioning itself as one of the global centers for outstanding film music for quite some time, but the majority of scores that tend to make an impact in the west are written for anime films or TV series or historical adventures – it’s not often that a serious, weighty contemporary drama makes a mark. Fukushima 50, however, is one of those rare scores which will leave an impression on the listener long after the music has finished playing. The score is available as a CD import from Japan and, rarely, as a digital download from most major streaming platforms.

Track Listing: 1. Symphonic Suite F: 1st Chapter: All Life (5:48), 2. Symphonic Suite F: 2nd Chapter: A Gift (4:31), 3. Symphonic Suite F: 3rd Chapter: Operation Tomodachi (4:14), 4. Symphonic Suite F: 4th Chapter: Home Country Forevermore (5:33), 5. Pride and Fear (3:25), 6. The Last Atonement (3:17), 7. 50 Wills (2:30), 8. In Memoriam F (3:26), 9. Unseen Existence α (2:42), 10. The F Refuge Camp (1:35), 11. Be With Danny Boy (4:23), 12. Nobody Comes, But The Flower Blooms (2:03), 13. Dear 50 (4:29). Universal Music Japan, 48 minutes 01 seconds.

 

KRUIMELTJE EN DE STRIJD OM DE GOUDMIJN – Joep Sporck

Kruimeltje en de Strijd om de Goudmijn (Little Crumb and the Battle for the Gold Mine) is a Dutch adventure film for children, directed by Diede in ‘t Veld, based on the popular stories by author Chris van Abkoude. The film stars young Viggo Neijs in the title role as Kruimeltje – ‘Little Crumb’ – and is the sequel to a popular 1999 film about the same character. In this film, Kruimeltje, who was once a ragamuffin street urchin in Holland in the 1930s, is now living with his new parents in a beautiful countryside villa. Despite his new luxurious life, Kruimeltje often misses his old life – so one day he, his best friend Anna, and his dog Moor, decide to run away to the city. Before long, little Kruimeltje is caught up in a new adventure involving kidnappers and villains searching for a legendary gold mine.

The score for Kruimeltje is by the very talented young Los Angeles-based Dutch composer Joep Sporck. This is easily the most high profile score of Sporck’s career to date, and it’s quite superb – orchestral, energetic, tuneful, and full of life and fun. It takes its inspiration from all over the place, and occasionally feels a bit scattershot in terms of its tone and approach, but what I like about it is the sense of joie de vivre Sporck brings to each cue; there is a playfulness and a freewheeling anything-goes attitude that keeps the entire score surprising. You never quite know where the score is going to go from one cue to the next, which some people may find a little frustrating from a cohesiveness point of view, but which I personally found endearing.

The “Opening” begins like Alan Silvestri’s The Quick and the Dead, or something from Ennio Morricone’s classic spaghetti western period, an atmospheric pastiche for electric guitars, harmonicas, solo trumpet, and a hoof-beat rhythm orchestra, which eventually emerges into a wonderfully adventurous and heroic main theme. These western vibes continues in cues like “Lefty,” “The Cabin,” “We Have to Save Her,” “On the Ferry,” and “Firehouse Shootout” among many others, and it soon becomes clear that this is intended to be a recurring motif for the nefarious kidnappers. There’s even a barn-dance hoe-down in “Foam Rescue”! Meanwhile, the heroic main theme becomes an anchor throughout several subsequent cues, including the action-packed and ebullient “Final Warning,” the mock-Italian capers in “It Burns,” the rollicking and Spanish-flavored “On the Roof,” and the magnificent “Saving Anna,” acting as a recurring motif for little Kruimeltje’s resourcefulness and cunning.

In addition to all this there’s a more subdued, intimate theme for Kruimeltje and Anna in “Leaving the City” which is really pretty, and is referenced later in tracks like “Sneaking Out,” the tender “I Don’t Have Parents,” parts of “Caught,” and especially the lovely “Kruimel & Anna”. The way Sporck weaves all three themes – the western ‘kidnapper’ motif, the heroic theme, and the relationship theme – into the fabric of several action cues is really entertaining. I’m thinking specifically of cues like “Orphanage,” “Escape,” “Coward,” and the tremendous finale “Better Safe Than Sorry,” all of which really highlight Sporck’s talent and creativity.

Children’s adventure scores often provide the thematic orchestral spills and thrills that fans of more ‘traditional’ film scores enjoy, and Kruimeltje en de Strijd om de Goudmijn is definitely one which will meet the needs of people like me who find that sort of writing engaging and enjoyable. It’s also a terrific introduction to Joep Sporck’s work, and will encourage me to pick up everything of his I can find going forward. The score is available from CTM Digital as a digital download via most major streaming platforms and retailers.

Track Listing: 1. Opening (3:13), 2. Leaving the City (2:14), 3. With Dad (0:58), 4. Lefty (1:38), 5. Final Warning (1:51), 6. It Burns! (0:43), 7. Sneaking Out (3:27), 8. Moor (1:00), 9. On the Road (1:39), 10. I Don’t Have Parents (1:12), 11. Orphanage (2:33), 12. Caught (1:56), 13. Kruimel & Anna (1:18), 14. The Cabin (1:36), 15. On the Roof (2:12), 16. Harry (2:06), 17. Daydreaming (1:33), 18. Escape (2:49), 19. We Have to Save Her (0:52), 20. On the Ferry (2:30), 21. Finding Anna (2:05), 22. Foam Rescue (3:13), 23. Firehose Shootout (1:11), 24. Reunited (1:42), 25. Final Pursuit (1:51), 26. You’re One of Them (2:34), 27. Coward (2:40), 28. It Will Be Allright (2:28), 29. Better Safe Than Sorry (2:22), 30. The End (1:06). CTM Digital, 58 minutes 49 seconds.

 

THE LOST PRINCE – Howard Shore

The Lost Prince, also known as Le Prince Ouliblé in its native French, is a whimsical fantasy comedy adventure, written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, who won an Oscar for directing The Artist in 2011. The film takes a look into the dreams of children, and follows the adventures of an eight-year old girl named Sophia (Keyla Fala). Every night, as Sofia falls asleep, her father Djibi (Omar Sy) tells her wonderful and magical tales of a place called “Storyland,” a fantasy film studio where their extraordinary fairy-tale adventures come to life in a series of “movies” starring Djibi in the lead role as the heroic Prince Charming. The film co-stars Hazanavicius’s muse Bérénice Bejo, and has a score by the great Howard Shore.

Shore has scored several foreign language films in his career, and it’s wonderful to see him back exploring the genre that made him world-famous, having spent the last few years curiously out of the mainstream film music limelight. Broadly, The Lost Prince can be described as akin to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, if it were written in a more light-hearted and whimsical way, with the energetic, colorful, vibrant, fully orchestral arrangements of scores like Hugo or the little-known and little-seen The Last Mimzy. In fact, that latter from 2007 is the closest score I can think of that this score resembles.

All of Shore’s familiar mannerisms are present throughout the score – the penchant for ascending stepwise scales, certain chord progressions that he has used throughout his career, the way he phrases woodwinds that is so unique to him. There is a recurring main theme that runs through much of the score acknowledging the touching father-daughter relationship at the core of the story. There are also a number of fun French-inspired touches in the orchestrations, from the use of accordions, dulcimers, and light guitars alongside the orchestra in the opening “Le Prince Oublié,” and in later cues like opulent “Le Grand Studio,” “La Femme À La Porte,” to the more sinister “Pritprout,” and the music box-like “Sur la Pointe des Pieds”. It’s so delightful to hear all the little touches and techniques transposed from The Lord of the Rings, and turned into something so pretty and playful.

However, for me, the score really excels in the moments when the film leaves the ‘real world’ and enters a world of high fantasy and adventure, and Shore’s music follows it. “Le Monde des Histoires” sounds like a children’s version of ‘The Lighting of the Beacons’. The woodwinds at the beginning of “On Reprend Le Plan” dart and swoop like seabirds. “Earthquake,” as one would expect, is dramatic and ominous, with especially notable use of muted brass. “Les Oubliettes” is magical, and a little ethereal, with prominent chimes and subtle synth effects, which eventually give way to another charming rendition of the main theme “Un Couer Valliant” is just tremendous, and is full of swashbuckling strings, features terrific interplay with the woodwinds, and is capped by a gorgeous accordion melody that comes in during the second half. On the other hand, “Sofia Se Retourne Le Dos” is anchored by a fragile, gossamer solo harp performance, while “C’Est Fini Pour De Bon” and the conclusive “C’Est l’Histoire Des Oubliés” are probably two of the most traditionally romantic things Shore has written in quite some time, especially when the choir comes in.

It’s been far too long since Howard Shore scored a film that made any sort of impact at the box office, and had a well-regarded score to match; the last was probably Spotlight back in 2015. The Lost Prince is certainly not going to make any headway into increasing Shore’s box office averages, but for fans of his work it’s a welcome return to the genre that made him world famous, and is sure to please fans of his large-scale works. The soundtrack album, which is available from Shore’s personal records label Howe Records, is finished off with two original songs, one of which (“Tell Me a Story”) was co-written by Shore and is performed by the up-and-coming indie signer-songwriter Natalie Prass.

Track Listing: 1. Le Prince Oublié (2:16), 2. Le Monde Des Histoires (3:13), 3. Le Grand Studio (1:09), 4. Le Passé, Le Présent Et Le Futur (1:47), 5. Le Prince Apparaît (1:06), 6. Histoire Finie, Avant Même De Commencer (1:04), 7. La Femme À La Porte (1:51), 8. Sofia Se Retourne Le Dos (1:03), 9. Pritprout (1:28), 10. On Reprend Le Plan (1:30), 11. Sur La Pointe Des Pieds (1:09), 12. Des Rôles Pour Tout Le Monde (2:39), 13. Earthquake! (2:00), 14. La Princesse Est En Danger (3:14), 15. Les Oubliettes (3:35), 16. La Reine Mère (3:21), 17. Un Cœur Vaillant (2:48), 18. C’Est Fini Pour De Bon (1:51), 19. Ça Y Est (2:02), 20. C’Est l’Histoire Des Oubliés (4:33), 21. Tell Me A Story (performed by Natalie Prass) (3:01), 22. Papa (perfomed by Fantine) (2:49). Howe Records, 49 minutes 41 seconds.

 

MISS FISHER AND THE CRYPT OF TEARS – Greg J. Walker

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is a popular and long-running TV drama series in Australia, based on author Kerry Greenwood’s historical mystery novels. The series revolves around the personal and professional life of Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis), a glamorous private detective in 1920s Melbourne, who spends half her time solving kidnappings and murders and various other crimes, and spends the other half socializing in Australian period high society. This film, Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, is her first big-screen outing, and it sees the intrepid sleuth globetrotting from Australia to the Middle East and getting caught up in a mystery involving priceless emeralds, ancient curses, and the fate of a young Bedouin girl who comes from an ancient tribe. The film is directed by Tony Tilse and has a score by composer Greg J. Walker, who also writes the music for the series.

Walker is an Australian singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who releases pop and rock music as ‘Machine Translations,’ and has had several successful albums back home. This is the first music from him that I’ve heard, and I’m impressed; Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears is a jolly good old-fashioned period adventure score that moves seamlessly from drama to romance to action with aplomb, and casts an evocative location-specific spell by augmenting the orchestra with numerous solo instruments reflective of the Middle East. Cues like the opening “Shirin in Jail,” as well as later cues like “Desert Mother” and parts of “Astrolabe” are notable in this regard, as are the two “Phryne Descends” cues which focus on the oud and the saz. They all paint an exotic musical picture, and occasionally put me in mind of things like Jerry Goldsmith’s The Mummy.

Elsewhere, “To the Manor” is lush and romantic, but with just a hint of melancholy in the strings, “Before the Eclipse” beautifully mystical and epic, and the “Jack and Phryne Love Theme” has all the hallmarks of classic romance. However, my personal favorites are the moments where Walker lets loose with his action music; in cues like “Antiquities Intruder,” the striking “Palestine Pursuit,” the rambunctious “Desert Chase,” “Train,” and the energetic “Return to the Desert,” the violins race and surge, the horns pulse, and the percussion engages in some thrilling rhythms. There are even some moments of magical splendor, when a softly cooing choir allows the ‘priceless emerald’ macguffin to briefly take center stage, as well as action settings of the Miss Fisher TV series.

The score is bookended by two versions of an original song, “All of You,” which is based around the main theme of the TV series, and is performed by vocalists Andrew Nolte and Vanessa Fernandez at the beginning, and as an instrumental at the end. The song is period specific – it has hints of Cole Porter to its phrasing and some of the instrumental ornamentation, especially the muted trumpets and clarinets – but it’s a lot of fun for anyone who ever fancied themselves as a flapper or a dapper dan.

Overall, Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears is an engaging, enjoyable work that’s well worth seeking out, especially for fans of classic adventure scores. As an introduction to Greg J. Walker’s work, I’m impressed, and it’s also nice to see Australian film music getting some time in the international spotlight – we don’t see it enough, and there’s some great work being done down under. The album is available from Lilli Pilli Records, and as a stream and/or download from all good online retailers.

Track Listing: 1. All of You (Duet) (performed by Andrew Nolte and Vanessa Fernandez) (3:37), 2. Shirin in Jail (0:52), 3. Antiquities Intruder (2:19), 4. Desert Mother (3:18), 5. Palestine Pursuit (2:01), 6. Astrolabe (3:27), 7. To the Manor (1:47), 8. Desert Chase (1:41), 9. Phryne Descends (Saz) (1:24), 10. Cool to the Touch (1:40), 11. Lofthouse’s Table (2:03), 12. Before the Eclipse (4:32), 13. Train (1:43), 14. Pastries (1:56), 15. Church (1:36), 16. Return to the Desert (1:03), 17. Jack & Phryne Love Theme (2:00), 18. Phryne Descends (Oud) (1:24), 19. The Crypt’s Collapse (1:12), 20. The Curse Lifted (3:33), 21. All of You (Instrumental) (4:41). Lilli Pilli IP, 47 minutes 59 seconds.

 

THE ROYAL BRIDE – Christopher Wong

The Royal Bride is the third part of the popular ‘Gai Gia Lam Chieu’ series of Vietnamese films directed by Namcito and Bảo Nhân. The films focus on the stories of beautiful young women, whose successful careers intertwine with their complicated love lives. In The Royal Bride, successful talk show host Ms. Q (Ninh Duong Lan Ngoc) is finally ready to tie the knot with her boyfriend (Le Xuan Tien), until she realizes that not only is he fabulously wealthy, but also a member of a royal family. In many ways, The Royal Bride is a Vietnamese twist on the popular Crazy Rich Asians story, and has already proved to be a massively popular domestic success.

With him having already scored the first two entries in the Gai Gia Lam Chieu series – and as seems to always be the case with Vietnamese box office smashes – the score for The Royal Bride is by Chinese-American composer Christopher Wong. Over the past few years Wong has successfully moved across multiple genres, and excelled at all of them, writing superb horror music for Vengeful Heart, thrills and spills for Scandal, comedy for How To Fight In Six Inch Heels, intense action for Sword of the Assassin, and beautiful dramatic music for Victor Vu’s pair Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass and Mat Biec.

The Royal Bride sees Wong at his most unashamedly romantic, as most of the music is inspired by the central idea, the “Love Theme from The Royal Bride,” a swooning piece of tender contemporary romance writing for piano, strings, and acoustic guitar which is delightfully recapitulated in tracks like “Choosing Dresses”. The rest of Wong’s work ranges from comedy to serious drama, and takes some unexpected but excellent musical turns: the composer engages in some modern action stylings in “Dramatic Entrance,” rich classical flourishes in “Korean Make-Up,” and big band jazz and funk in “Texting Gossip,” while adding gorgeous Asian instrumental textures to cues such as “To Hue,” and finishing with a dramatically poignant pair in “False Heirlooms” and “Understanding”.

As is usually the case, there is additional music on The Royal Bride by Wong’s long-time associates Garrett Crosby and Ian Rees. Crosby’s five cues – “Arrival at the Palace,” “Trespassing,” “Treasure Ceremony,” “On the Boat,” and “Stealing the Documents” – are equally excellent and include a shockingly good piece of mock-baroque opera, action-caper music, and writing for taiko drums, erhu, and ethnic woodwinds. Rees, on the other hand, has a food theme with his cues: “French Butter” is a Lalo Schifrin-style sneaky spy variation on the main theme, while “Dumplings” is a gentle and dream-like piece that oscillates between traditional Asian instruments and slightly comedic pianos.

The Royal Bride is yet another outstanding score from Chris Wong and his team, and kudos should go especially to producer Mikael Carlsson of the Moviescore Media label for continuing to champion his work – this is their ninth release of his music, and it’s one of the best. Accordingly, the score is available as a digital download from the MSM website at http://moviescoremedia.com/the-royal-bride-christopher-wong/.

Track Listing: 1. Love Theme from The Royal Bride (2:12), 2. Dramatic Entrance (1:36), 3. Texting Gossip (1:04), 4. To Hue (2:03), 5. Choosing Dresses (1:56), 6. Arrival at the Palace (3:02), 7. French Butter (2:25), 8. Trespassing (1:53), 9. Korean Make-Up (1:34), 10. Treasure Ceremony (3:03), 11. Unfinished Painting (2:08), 12. Dumplings (1:36), 13. Not Deleted (2:26), 14. False Heirlooms (6:20), 15. On the Boat (2:26), 16. Understanding (5:41), 17. Stealing the Documents (1:26), 18. Acceptance (2:17). MovieScore Media MMS-20005, 45 minutes 05 seconds.

 

SPRITE SISTERS – Anne Kathrin Dern

Sprite Sisters, known as Vier Sauberhafte Schwestern in Germany, is a fantasy adventure comedy film for children, based on the popular book series by British author Sheridan Winn, and directed by Sven Undterwaldt Jr. Flame, Sky, Flora, and Marina are four sisters, young witches who each have the power to manipulate various elements. In this story the sisters, each of whom have strong personalities, are forced to put aside their differences and work together to defeat a new adversary: Glenda (Katja Reimann), a beautiful adult witch who wants to take each girl’s power for herself.

The soundtrack album, on BMG Music, is a 2-CD release. The first CD contains a number of original songs performed by one or more of the four main actresses – Laila Marie Noëlle Padotzke, Hedda Erlebach, Lilith Julie Johna, and Leonore von Berg – as well as a couple by the young German pop singer Linus Bruhn, none of which I’m covering in this review. Instead I’m focusing entirely on the second CD, which contains just over 40 minutes of score by the terrific young German composer Anne-Kathrin Dern. Dern is one of the most exciting young composers to emerge over the last few years; her scores for The Jade Pendant, Lilly’s Bewitched Christmas, Hilfe Ich Hab Mein Eltern Geschrumpft, and the stage show The Legend of the War Horse were all outstanding, thematic, fully orchestral works, and Sprite Sisters continues the trend.

Dern’s main musical influence for Sprite Sisters is clearly John Williams, and this plays out through the entirety of this score. Right from the first moment of the first cue, “Opening,” it’s clear that this is all very much inspired by Williams’s three Harry Potter scores – not in terms of actual themes, but in tone, orchestration, and ‘feel’. It has that magical, sparkling, elegant sound that permeates each of those scores, courtesy of the use of chimes, sleigh bells, and celesta to support the large and dense orchestra. Oboes phrased with a slight touch of craftiness feature in “The Secret Chamber” and “Magic,” and slightly sinister brass crescendos abound in “Glenda” to give that character a sense of powerful danger, while the prominent cimbaloms make “Mrs Duggery” and “Chosen One” give the whole thing a slightly ancient and decrepit feel.

The pretty piano and string theme in “Sisters” and “Quinn” makes their bond strong and wholesome. I adore the sense of wonderment and the slight eerie quality that permeates all of “Puzzle,” as well as the cue’s more romantic and emotional finale. And then there is the other clear influence on the score – Prokofiev’s famous 1938 ballet Romeo and Juliet – the echoes of which are apparent in cues like “Hunter’s House,” “The Rose,” “Talent,” and “Mine” with their great, strident rhythmic centers and sense of grandeur and pomposity. Dern does some really interesting things with the melody, though, sometimes arranging it for accordions and pianos, and sometimes playing around with the tempo, to make it feel like a new and fresh piece. The “Talent” cue also has a tiny hint of “The Spark” of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, to add yet another level of Williamsiness to the proceedings.

Anyone who is bothered by clear temp-track bleed-through will perhaps find themselves a little annoyed with Sprite Sisters because the John Williams and Harry Potter influences are obvious and abundant. Personally, though, I prefer to focus on the positives: there are far worse scores and composers to be influenced by than John Williams, and it is to Dern’s enormous credit that she is able to recapture his wonderfully spooky and magical tone so well. Sprite Sisters is fun and engaging throughout, with several spine-tingling highlights.

Track Listing: 1. Opening (2:02), 2. The Secret Chamber (2:20), 3. Glenda (1:36), 4. Mrs Duggery (1:38), 5. Sisters (1:39), 6. Arrival (1:28), 7. Magic (2:32), 8. Puzzle (3:01), 9. Chosen One (2:39), 10. Spying (1:27), 11. The Library (1:12), 12. Quinn (1:21), 13. Hunter’s House (2:32), 14. Weakness (2:52), 15. The Rose (2:10), 16. Talent (2:33), 17. Four (1:47), 18. Mine (1:13), 19. Together (3:41), 20. Finale (1:40). BMG Music, 41 minutes 32 seconds.

  1. March 24, 2020 at 9:43 am

    Good to see that all mentioned scores were selections for the updates section on Screensoundradio
    Feels like our programming is heading into the right
    direction

  2. March 24, 2020 at 10:15 am

    So happy! Thank you! I love this series!!

  3. March 25, 2020 at 11:36 am

    Excellent report , many new soundtracks to look up. Thank you.

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