Home > Reviews > Under-the-Radar Round Up 2022, Part 4A

Under-the-Radar Round Up 2022, Part 4A

Life has returned to world cinema in 2022 following the easing of the COVID-19 global pandemic, and at the end of the fourth quarter of the year I’m absolutely delighted to present the latest instalment in my on-going series of articles looking at the best under-the-radar scores from around the world. This article covers six scores for projects from disparate parts of Europe, and includes a Dutch-Belgian Christmas family film, a powerful Croatian drama, a Belgian nature documentary, a Spanish supernatural horror film, and two different scores by the same French composer – one a period drama film, and one a historical TV series looking at the life of Queen Marie-Antoinette.

 

THE CLAUS FAMILY 3 – Anne-Kathrin Dern

The Claus Family 3 is the latest installment in the popular Dutch-Belgian ‘Familie Claus’ series of films, which star Jan Decleir as Santa Claus and Mo Bakker as his grandson Jules. In this third film, directed by Ruben Vandenborre, Jules and little sister Noor must step in to help their grandfather deliver the Christmas gifts when a disaster leaves Santa unable to complete his task. It’s another one of those charming seasonal delights that takes familiar Christmas tropes and turns it into a fun adventure for the family.

The score for The Claus Family 3, like its two predecessors, is by the super talented German composer Anne-Kathrin Dern. In the soundtrack press material, Dern says: “The Claus Family 3 is very different from the previous two movies so I tried a slightly different approach musically. Besides the orchestral foundation – once again beautifully performed by the FAME’S Orchestra – I’m leaning more heavily onto choir, which we recorded in the Netherlands. There are a lot of woodwind solos, string solos, and even Mexican inspired cues that feature amazing guitar performances by Bruno Justi. Overall, it’s a much more adventurous score which was a lot of fun to write!”

This is a great description of a wonderfully entertaining score. Dern is a composer who always gets to the heart of her stories with memorable thematic writing, and The Claus Family 3 contains a great deal of that. While it perhaps doesn’t have quite the same level of heartfelt emotion as the woodwind writing in Claus Family 2 did, there is still a great deal of depth and feeling throughout the score, as well a great deal of that familiar traditional ‘festive’ music featuring light, sparkling orchestrations, and percussion items like chimes, celesta, and sleigh bells.

It opens with what is, essentially, a new original Christmas carol called “Can You Hear the Bells,” which is just gorgeous, magical and mysterious, a sort of cross between the Carol of the Bells and John Williams’s Home Alone. Cues like “The Journey Begins” and “Night on the Train” continue on with this sound and reference the song melody to excellent effect, and then pieces like “The Orient Express,” “The Lighthouse,” and “Stealing the Keys” expand on it further with more prominent choral performances, and then with a more expansive and adventurous orchestral sound that is really entertaining. Dern’s music is so tuneful, so warm, so elegant, that’s impossible not to be engaged.

“Noor” is quieter and more intimate, a sincere and poignant piano solo surrounded by wintry orchestrations, “Arrival at the Gate” has some really satisfying orchestral swells, and “Naked” and “Prison Break” are more mischievous and playful, with the latter being especially notable for its lithe and effervescent woodwind content that reminds me a little of John Williams’s The Terminal. “Papa Noel” and “Pay Up” both feature the expressive guitar performances of Bruno Justi, backed by flamenco hand claps, which gives the score a new dynamism and a James Horner-esque Zorro-style flourish.

“Stay Away from Him” is filled with tender emotional and sentiment, and the conclusive “A True Winner” ends the score on a triumphant note with music that at time sounds like it should be accompanying a rousing sports movie than a Christmas fantasy. The album ends with an original pop song, “Share Xmas Love,” written and performed by Dutch-Indonesian singer-songwriter Kia Knoester that is really lovely and has a sort of classic 1950s doo-wop sound.

The score for The Claus Family 3 is available to purchase as a digital download from Moviescore Media here, and also via most of the other main online platforms. Anyone who enjoyed the first two installments in the series, or any of Dern’s other excellent work, will find plenty to appreciate here too.

Track Listing: 1. Can You Hear the Bells (1:42), 2. The Journey Begins (1:03), 3. The Orient Express (1:14), 4. Noor (2:38), 5. Night on the Train (1:02), 6. Arrival at the Gate (1:03), 7. Naked (1:33), 8. Focus (0:56), 9. Prison Break (1:38), 10. Papa Noel (2:24), 11. Pay Up (0:48), 12. The Lighthouse (2:47), 13. A Family Affair (1:01), 14. Stealing the Keys (1:49), 15. Never Up to Any Good (2:58), 16. Stay Away from Him (1:21), 17. A True Winner (2:50), 18. Share Xmas Love (performed by KIA) (3:40). Moviescore Media MMS22052, 32 minutes 26 seconds.

 

THE CONVERSATION – Dalibor Grubačević

The Conversation, known as Razgovor in its native language, is a Croatian-made drama film directed by Dominik Sedlar, starring Caspar Phillipson and Dylan Turner. The film is based on true events and depicts a meeting in June 1945 which takes place between two powerful men in the aftermath of World War II with the fate of the countries on the Balkan peninsula at stake. One of the men is Josip Broz Tito, who would go on to be the president of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1953 until 1980, while the other is Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, the Catholic Archbishop of Zagreb who would eventually be tried by Tito and his communist Yugoslav government and convicted of treason. The film is a serious examination of politics, religion, and philosophy, and is staged almost like a play, with lead actors Phillipson and Turner engaging is a series of deep, intricate dialogues.

The score for The Conversation is by the excellent Croatian composer Dalibor Grubačević. The 47-year-old has been active in film in his native country for more than a decade, scoring feature documentaries and lower-budget movies, but The Conversation is the first of his scores to attain any kind of attention outside of Croatia, and I hope it makes some headway, because based on this evidence Grubačević is a real talent whose career should hopefully, on the back of this score, go from strength to strength.

Contrary to expectations, considering the relatively limited scope and staginess of the film itself, The Conversation is a rich and lush work for a chamber orchestra, filled with excellent thematic ideas and powerful moments of emotion and drama. The anchor of the score is the opening cue, “The Conversation – Prologue,” which has a gorgeous classical sheen in the strings, and is full of elegant harmonies and sophisticated accents. A lot of the rest of the score is based on ideas introduced in the prologue, but one or two cues offer different ideas. For example, “The Cave” and “Forgery” are nervous suspense/action cues filled tremolo strings and moody brass writing, while later “Fever” ups the ante even more by adding an incessant ticking percussion idea into the mix.

Another aspect of the score relates to a character called Marija Horvat, a woman who appears through Archbishop Stepinac’s memories of his youth, but whose legacy has an important part to play in shaping the decisions of the two men. Several cues – “Marija Horvat,” the dramatically potent “What Came of Marija,” and “Memories of Marija” – contain a haunting, almost romantic piano theme for the character, all of which are filled with a sense of melancholic longing, bitterness, and understated tragedy that is really quite moving.

The final two cues – “Epilogue” and “End Credits” – bring everything together into a sweeping conclusive statement of thematic consonance, and contain excellent refrains of both the main Conversation theme and Marija’s theme that are very satisfying indeed. Overall this is all outstanding stuff, and it earmarks Dalibor Grubačević as an exciting new name in film music, a composer worth watching and exploring in the future. The score is available to purchase as an import CD from France via Plaza Mayor Records, and as a digital download via most of the other main online platforms.

Track Listing: 1. The Conversation – Prologue (4:28), 2. For Years of War (0:42), 3. The Cave (1:37), 4. Marija Horvat (1:52), 5. Of All The People In That Bus… (1:26), 6. What Came of Marija (3:28), 7. When No One’s Looking (1:15), 8. Forgery (1:46), 9. Memories of Marija (2:55), 10. Fever (1:17), 11. Farewell (3:27), 12. Epilogue (2:28), 13. End Credits (3:15). Plaza Mayor Company SERG323, 30 minutes 01 seconds.

 

COULEURS DE L’INCENDIE – Guillaume Roussel

Couleurs de l’Incendie is an epic French drama directed by Clovis Cornillac. starring Léa Drucker, Benoît Poelvoorde, Alice Isaaz and Olivier Gourmet. The film is based on the acclaimed novel by Pierre Lemaitre, and stars Drucker as Madeleine, the daughter of a powerful Parisian financier, who is poised to take over his empire following his death. However, the actions of her reckless son Paul result in Madeleine’s personal and professional ruin; beset with adversity on all sides, Madeleine has to do everything possible to survive and rebuild her life – a task made all more difficult because of the rising specter of Nazism in France, and the threat of war in western Europe.

The score for Couleurs de l’Incendie is by the outstanding French composer Guillaume Roussel who is having a truly amazing 2022, with scores like C’est Magnifique and King to his name already, among others. Couleurs de l’Incendie may be the best of the lot; it’s a powerful, emotional orchestral drama score in the classical tradition, full of rich string passages and stirring moments of tragedy and grandeur that give depth and emotional strength the story of Madeleine’s life.

In an album full of highlights, several cues stand out. The opening “Saut de l’Ange” feels like a Mozart requiem, all stirring strings and subtle choral embellishments. “Nouveau Départ” is a playfully intimate waltz. “Complicité” has a subtle air of intrigue about it, making the traditional orchestrations seem a little duplicitous. “Léonce et Robert,” “Le Coffre Forcé,” and “Départ Pour Berlin” have a propulsive, breathless energy to them that puts me in mind of Alexandre Desplat in his best thriller mode – a festival of nimble piano passages and darting strings. “Pulsion Soudaine” is dramatic and sweeping. “Chanter Pour le Fuhrer” has an air of bitterness and regret that makes its superficially beautiful piano-and-string writing feel like something more is being said. “Retour à Paris” is deliciously melodramatic, and then the conclusive three “Arrestation” cues are ominous but filled with a sense of vindication and justice.

The other major story in the film is the relationship between Madeleine’s son Paul and his partner Solange, which is a sort of romantic tragedy that plays out in parallel to Madeleine’s own woes; “Paul Rencontre Solange” has a gentle, tender intimacy to it, but then “Paul Quitte Solange” is fragile and haunted, and “Solange” feels like the perfect music to accompany a harrowing betrayal, a mass of Herrmannesque strings. All this is tempered with moments of moody tension, full of tremolo strings and brooding percussion rumbles, that enhance the sense of impending doom that looms over Madeleine and Paul, and indeed over Europe as a whole; tracks like “Dupré Mène l’Enquête” and “Robert Sabote le Moteur” are among the best examples of this side of the score.

In addition to Roussel’s score the album features operatic excerpts from by Verdi and Saint-Saëns, plus classics from the French repertoire including the famous “Plaisir d’Amour,” all performed by soprano Sandrine Piau and pianist Randy Kerber. The whole thing is just lovely – an old fashioned classical drama score for those who appreciate things like that when they are done with tastefulness and decorum. The score is available to purchase as an import CD from France (including here), and as a digital download via most of the other main online platforms.

Track Listing: 1. Un Secret (written by Camille Saint-Saëns, performed by Sandrine Piau) (4:17), 2. Saut de l’Ange (1:41), 3. Nouveau Départ (2:24), 4. Joubert et le Coffre (0:58), 5. Lettre et Invitation à l’Opéra (1:26), 6. Paul Rencontre Solange (1:28), 7. La Vérité Sombre (0:48), 8. Une Nouvelle Vie Modeste (1:40), 9. Dupré Mène l’Enquête (2:03), 10. Complicité (0:57), 11. Madeleine Engage Léonce (1:54), 12. Léonce et Robert (1:12), 13. Pulsion Soudaine (1:29), 14. Plaisir d’Amour (written by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini, performed by Sandrine Piau and Randy Kerber) (2:42), 15. Chanter Pour le Fuhrer (3:26), 16. Paul Quitte Solange (1:31), 17. Robert Sabote le Moteur (2:58), 18. Un Banquier Appâté (1:20), 19. Le Coffre Forcé (2:40), 20. Départ Pour Berlin (3:43), 21. Nabucco, Act III: Choir. Va Piensero (written by Giuseppe Verdi, performed by Sandrine Piau) (2:48), 22. Solange (2:05), 23. Retour à Paris (4:31), 24. Arrestation Banquier (2:16), 25. Arrestation André (2:30), 26. Arrestation Joubert (1:20), 27. Les Pêcheurs de Perles, GB 4, Act I: 4. – Je Crois Entendre Encore (written by Georges Bizet, Eugène Cormon, and Michel Carré, performed by Joseph Calleja with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields cond. Carlo Rizzi) (3:17). 28. Si j’ai parlé… Si j’ai aimé (written by François-Clément Théodore Dubois, performed by Sandrine Piau with Le Concert de la Loge, cond. Julien Chauvin) (2:48). Alpha Music 3760014198793, 62 minutes 14 seconds.

 

MARIE-ANTOINETTE: PREMIERS PAS Á LA COUR – Guillaume Roussel

Marie-Antoinette: Premiers Pas á la Cour is an Anglo-French TV drama series written by Deborah Davis, writer of The Favourite , that premiered on the Canal+ network in October 2022, and then on the BBC in December. The show’s first season looks at the early life of the woman destined to be Queen of France – her childhood growing up in Austria, her arranged betrothal to the Dauphin in France at the age of 14, her first years at court in Versailles, and the bitterness and jealousy she suffers at the hands of others eager to steal the hand of Louis XVI away from her. The show stars Emilia Schüle as Marie-Antoinette, James Purefoy as Louis XV, and Louis Cunningham as Louis XVI, and has original music written by the excellent Guillaume Roussel, who is capping off the best year of his career with another outstanding score.

Roussel’s score is steeped in the style and traditions of 17th century French classical music, but is also very modern in the way is takes the style and then arranges it so that it appeals to contemporary audiences. For example, the opening “Générique Début” is a gorgeous flurry of romantic strings and pianos, but this is immediately replaced by the formal but very beautiful violin writing in “Quatuor de l’Adolescence”. “Famille d’Autriche” has a dreamy, idyllic sound that is just superb. “Union Sacrée” is a haunting piece of religioso chorale, and “Prête Pour Paris” is a whimsical scherzo full of speed and celebratory flourishes, but then “Friends and Family” is a darker, defaced variation on the main theme which brings Marie Antoinette’s perilous position into focus.

“Dernier Essai” is spiky and agitated, a wonderful exercise in layer of pizzicato. “Folie Française” is a mix of ideas; at times it is moody and eerie, at other times it is quirky and mischievous, at other times it is thoughtful and introspective, and at other times it is forceful and flamboyant, depending on Marie-Antoinette’s attitude at the time. “Le Roi Est Mort” is naturally somewhat anguished and agonized, but also emotionally wrought, as France comes to terms with the loss of its monarch – and the immediate ascension of a new one, alongside his young queen. The conclusive “L’Impératrice N’est Plus” ends the score on a dramatic, sweeping, expressively orchestral high, returning to some of the ideas from the main theme, but greatly expanding them in terms of scope and emotional content.

As well as Roussel’s score the album includes a couple of cues featuring additional music by young composers Michael Lofaso and Clémentine Charuel, some of which have a more modern electronic edge. There are also a handful of new recordings of period music written by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, who was a leading composer/conductor in Paris in the late 1700s, and is now acknowledged as the earliest European composer of African descent to receive widespread critical acclaim. The tracks attributed to him, “Marie-Antoinette Au Clavecin,” “Music Room Ariette,” and “Opéra l’Ernestine,” are performed by harpsichord virtuoso Franck-Emmanuel Comte.

Marie-Antoinette: Premiers Pas á la Cour is an excellent score, one of the best TV works in a year overflowing with them, and unfortunately may be destined to be overlooked rings of power, interviews with vampires, moon knights, and so on. But anyone who enjoys detailed, authentic, but also modern and relevant classical music should give Marie-Antoinette: Premiers Pas á la Cour a chance. The score is available to stream and as a digital download via most good online platforms.

Track Listing: 1. Générique Début (0:55), 2. Quatuor de l’Adolescence (2:28), 3. Complots (written by Guillaume Roussel and Michael Lofaso) (3:10), 4. Famille d’Autriche (1:24), 5. Famille de France (1:45), 6. Marie-Antoinette Au Clavecin (written by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges , performed by Franck-Emmanuel Comte) (1:45), 7. Union Sacrée (3:32), 8. Prête Pour Paris (2:23), 9. Friends and Family (2:08), 10. La Signature du Divorce (5:28), 11. Papa Roi et la Tomate (2:40), 12. Music Room Ariette (written by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges , performed by Franck-Emmanuel Comte) (1:36), 13. Dernier Essai (3:06), 14. Le Baptême (written by Guillaume Roussel and Clémentine Charuel) (1:53), 15. Folie Française (5:18), 16. Le Roi Est Mort (6:34), 17. L’Impératrice N’est Plus (5:49), 18. Opéra l’Ernestine (written by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges , performed by Franck-Emmanuel Comte) (2:35). 22D Music, 54 minutes 29 seconds.

 

OUR NATURE – Dirk Brossé

Our Nature, or Onze Natuur, is the latest in a series of otherwise unrelated nature documentaries exploring the flora and fauna specific to a particular country in Europe. Much like Panu Aaltio’s ‘Tarina’ films looked at wildlife in Finland, Matthijs Kieboom’s Wild looked at wildlife in the Netherlands, and so on, Onze Natuur is a production of Screen Flanders, and takes a detailed look at the nature of Belgium. It has been a popular success in it’s native country, and the score for the film, by Belgian composer and conductor Dirk Brossé, has been very popular too, and has even initiated a series of performances of the documentary in cities across Belgium, with Brossé conducting his music live-to-picture.

And no wonder it has been so successful, because the music is outstanding. Brossé is a truly world-class composer and conductor, but despite his vast repertoire of classical music, his domestic popularity (he conducts the concert at the World Soundtrack Awards in Ghent every year), and his few brief forays into international waters (he received an Emmy nomination for Parade’s End in 2013), he still remains frustratingly under-valued by the film music community. Hopefully Onze Natuur can go a little way to changing that. The score is a rich, vibrant, colorful, expressive orchestral work, performed by the Brussels Philharmonic and featuring a vast array of styles, textures, and approaches, each depicting different aspects of Belgium’s natural world.

Some of the music is elegant and pastoral, like the opening “Our Nature,” the lovely “Nature Awakes,” “Magical Sea Sparkle,” “Transience,” and “New Life”. Some of the music is dramatic and forceful, like “Adventure, A Bird’s-Eye View,” “The Ballet of Migratory Birds,” the action-packed “Fight to the Death,” and the chaotic “The Struggle for Life”. Some of the music is light and playful, like “Endless Sky,” “Priceless Beauty,” “Youngsters at Play,” “Mating Dance,” the dance-like “First Steps,” and the wryly comedic “The Flemish Countryside”. Some of the music is unexpectedly serious and menacing, like “Exploration,” and “Imminent Danger,” and then some of the music deeply emotional and moving, like “Lament for a Fallen Tree”.

There’s a sort of regalness and sense of pageantry to “The Red Deer, Lord of the Forest,” and then in cues like “The Great Trek” Brossé allows his orchestra to rise to soaring heights. “The Walloon Forests” and “Nature’s Heartbeat” are like a pair of tone poems, full of wonder and majesty, and then the 7-minute finale “Memories of Forgotten Landscapes” is just the icing on the cake, a tremendous exploration of everything that the score has to offer.

Once in a while there are some very subtle and understated hints of jazz, especially in the way Brossé uses clarinets, and in the way he layers instruments against each other to create light dissonances., and in some of the chord progressions, which is unexpected but really enjoyable. But, all throughout the score, Brossé’s music is a delight – each cue has something interesting to say, offers some new compositional idea or instrumental texture, keeping the whole thing from ever becoming stale or repetitive.

Dirk Brossé should be household name already, based on the excellence of his previous works, but I truly hope that Onze Natuur is the score that brings him to more widespread public attention and cements him as a composer whose work is always at the top of people’s lists to explore and appreciate. The score is available to stream and as a digital download via most good online platforms.

Track Listing: 1. Our Nature (3:05), 2. Adventure, A Bird’s-Eye View (1:27), 3. Endless Sky (1:51), 4. Priceless Beauty (2:20), 5. Nature Awakes (2:58), 6. Youngsters at Play (1:39), 7. The Dam Builders (2:25), 8. Exploration (2:04), 9. Mysterious Creatures (2:17), 10. The Ballet of Migratory Birds (1:36), 11. The Red Deer, Lord of the Forest (3:31), 12. Imminent Danger (1:42), 13. Fight to the Death (2:12), 14. Magical Sea Sparkle (2:26), 15. The Great Trek (3:01), 16. Urban Wildlife (1:43), 17. Transience (1:50), 18. Winter is Coming (3:55), 19. Fog Over the Woods (1:16), 20. Lament for a Fallen Tree (2:40), 21. Silent Landscape (1:31), 22. The Struggle for Life (1:52), 23. The Return of Spring (1:50), 24. Metamorphosis (1:55), 25. Mating Dance (1:51), 26. New Life (1:50), 27. First Steps (2:19), 28. On the Move (2:20), 29. The Walloon Forests (1:13), 30. The Flemish Countryside (2:41), 31. Nature’s Heartbeat (4:13), 32. Memories of Forgotten Landscapes (7:31). VRT Muzik, 77 minutes 04 seconds.

 

THE WASTELAND – Diego Navarro

The Wasteland, also known El Páramo in its native language, is a Spanish period horror-thriller-drama film directed by David Casademunt, which premiered on Netflix several months ago. The plot involves a family that lives in isolation from the rest of society, whose quite life is disturbed when a terrifying beast that seems to feed on fear itself appears outside their home and threatens to tear their family apart. The film stars Inma Cuesta, Asier Flores, and Roberto Álamo, and was something of a sleeper hit among horror fans, which praised it for its visual style and overarching sense of psychological dread.

The score for The Wasteland is by the brilliant Spanish composer and conductor Diego Navarro, but unfortunately it has never been released in any form. The only music from the movie that is publicly available is a 5-minute Youtube video entitled “Tema de Amor Lucía,” which can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Kp0RNQsTys.

The theme is an absolute knockout, a bold, sumptuous, classical piece for a bank of surging, emotional strings that initially focuses on solo violins and cellos, augmented by a piano and a pennywhistle, but then gradually builds to encompass the entire ensemble. The piece has the same sort of orchestral intensity as something like “The Gravel Road” from James Newton Howard’s score for The Village; the strings flourish, rise and fall, in a way which is melancholy and mysterious, but also deeply passionate and romantic. It was recorded in Krakow, Poland, with the Beethoven Academy Orchestra, and it’s one of my favorite individual cues of 2022.

Now, normally, I wouldn’t review something like this in such an incomplete form but, honestly, the music is so good, and Diego Navarro is so talented but comparatively under-rated, that I just had to at least mention it. I honestly think that this score has the potential to be one 2022’s best unreleased gems, an overlooked score that nobody would usually think twice about considering that there is no album, and the movie is so under-the-radar of English-speaking audiences. So… consider this my attempt to raises the awareness of this superb work. Such is his talent and passion for the genre, Diego Navarro the deserves the publicity, and I hope this this review will serve as inspiration to some enterprising soundtrack producer to release an album of the full score somewhere down the line.

Unreleased, 05 minutes 01 seconds.

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  1. January 28, 2023 at 10:01 am

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