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ONCE AROUND – James Horner

February 25, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Once Around is a romantic comedy-drama about family dynamics, cultural differences, and finding love late in life. Holly Hunter stars as Renata, the oldest daughter of a sprawling Italian-American family, and the only unmarried offspring of patriarch Joe (Danny Aiello). While on a vacation in the Caribbean Renata meets and falls in love with Sam (Richard Dreyfuss), an abrasive chain-smoking salesman of Russian heritage. Despite his best intentions Sam continually causes rifts and arguments between different members of Renata’s family – until a medical emergency causes them all to stop and think about what love actually means. The film was directed by Lasse Hallström from a screenplay by Malia Scotch Marmo, co-stars Laura San Giacomo and Gena Rowlands, and has an original score by James Horner.

Once Around is a quintessential 1990s James Horner piece, building off the style of earlier works like Dad and In Country, and having much in common with later scores like The Man Without a Face, House of Cards, To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, or the end credits from The Pelican Brief. It’s a small-scale, thoughtful score, more interested in conveying subtle emotions than it is in knocking the listener’s socks off with lush orchestral grandeur. Horner’s score on album is limited to just four cues. The first of these, “Big Band on Ice,” is actually one of those wonderful jazzy pieces that he occasionally wrote, and is very much a sibling to tracks like “The Boys Are Out” from Cocoon, and the “Café Swing” from Batteries Not Included. It’s awash in wonderful toe-tapping beats, syncopated rhythms, and superb solo performances from piano, muted horns, stand-up-bass, and jazz percussion, arranged by big band veteran Billy May.

The second cue, “The Apology,” is more traditionally orchestral, and introduces the score’s main theme, an emotional and wistful piece that moves between gentle strings and tender woodwinds as a way of representing the relationship that begins to develop between Sam and Renata. Horner had such a lovely way of conveying these emotions with simple, elegant thematic content. The way the strings and woodwinds harmonize, the way the piano adds gentle counterpoint underneath – it’s all just lovely. Perhaps the theme itself is a little underdeveloped – it’s essentially just a flurry of a dozen notes – but anyone with an affinity for Horner’s understated emotional writing will find it to be very much to their taste.

Later, “The Arrival” revisits the theme with a mellow, reflective soprano saxophone acting as the lead instrumental texture. Soft strings, tinkling pianos, and the merest hint of a choir add color and texture. And then the conclusive finale cue, “A Passage of Time,” offers an extended exploration of theme that takes almost nine minutes to weave its spell. Horner develops the theme slowly, moving the melodic idea around different sections of the orchestra, allowing the emotional impact of Sam’s medical issues, his ruminations on love and life, and his relationship with Renata and her family, to become meaningful and poignant. There are some lovely textures here, including moments where a solo violin and a solo oboe are given the chance to shine, before it all fades away like a whisper.

Considering that the entirety of Horner’s score amounts to just under 20 minutes, the Varese Sarabande album is rounded out by several songs and classical selections. There are two versions of the Frank Sinatra standard “Fly Me to the Moon,” an instrumental, and then one performed in-character by actor Danny Aiello. There’s a sumptuous performance of Strauss’s “Emperor Waltz” by the Vienna Opera Orchestra, a superb piece of Middle Eastern exotica called “Sulu Kulé (Karsllama)” performed by George Abdo & the Flames of Araby Orchestra, and then another Danny Aiello cover, this time of the Benny Goodman classic “Glory of Love”.

Once Around is a minor, largely overlooked entry in James Horner’s 1990s filmography, which is not entirely surprising considering that it was immediately preceded by blockbuster scores like Field of Dreams and Glory, and was immediately followed by much more popular efforts like The Rocketeer and An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. Once Around is also an intentionally quiet score; there are no huge moments of sweeping splendor, and none of the big orchestral crescendos for which he was so beloved. This score deals with more introspective and existential ideas – life, love, family, death – conveyed in a humble, peaceful manner. It’s a lovely, if brief, reminder of how in touch with these emotions James Horner was, and makes for a pleasant 30 minute diversion.

Buy the Once Around soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Big Band on Ice (4:38)
  • The Apology (4:16)
  • Fly Me to the Moon (written by Bart Howard, performed by Danny Aiello) (2:30)
  • Emperor Waltz (written by Johann Strauss, performed by the Vienna Opera Orchestra) (5:32)
  • The Arrival (2:07)
  • Sulu Kulé (Karsllama) (written by George Abdo, performed by George Abdo & the Flames of Araby Orchestra ) (3:35)
  • Fly Me to the Moon (Instrumental Version) (written by Bart Howard) (1:16)
  • Glory of Love (written by Billy Hill, performed by Danny Aiello) (1:34)
  • A Passage of Time (8:42)

Running Time: 34 minutes 10 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-5308 (1991)

Music composed and conducted by James Horner. Orchestrations by John Neufeld and Billy May. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Edited by Jim Henrikson. Album produced by James Horner.

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