Friday, 24 July 2009

On The Desk V

Just when I think I’m beginning to get on top of things, the in-tray fills with another handful of albums. There are some cracking ones in need of attention, and I will get to those next week I hope. This week though I want to focus on a variety of titles in both my in-tray and on my hard drive. As I’ve said, very often I get sent links to albums, or files to download, from composers both up and coming, and well established.

Recently I received one such album from composer Edwin Wendler, a young and indeed talented composer who, though born in Vienna, now resides in Los Angeles. His most recent film score, The Interior – a film follow up to the 2007 television series – was released on CD by Perseverance Records a little while ago and while I’m yet to hear that, one of his early scores displays a colourful creative flair that I hope runs into the later works of recent years. Home: The Horror Story was a 2000 film directed by Venezuelan director Temístocles López and saw an all American family man find his life turned into a nightmare after undergoing invasive brain surgery. While it’s not a film that will likely be making it to your local multiplex anytime soon, the mix of bizarre surrealism and pseudo comedy horror antics has made it one not to be missed on late night television. Edwin’s score is as rambunctious as they come, with the composer unleashing a barrage of synthetic party tricks and unyielding ditties that cavort and swagger along with the comic capers in the surreal on-screen nightmare. I particularly enjoyed the opening cue ‘Meet The Family’ with its Elfmanesque hue, while the stomp and stagger of ‘Returning Home’ is a lot of fun. Ticking more of the horror boxes is ‘Getting Hot’ with its eerie voices, reverse effects and pizzicato effects. The overall carnival atmosphere of the larger score is a real winner though; much fun indeed. Hopefully we’ll hear more from Edwin Wendler in the future.

One composer I’m very pleased to be hearing more from is Benjamin Wallfisch. While Ben remains a big player in the classical field – his family name precedes him – his continuing work in film music is nothing short of brilliant. I was blown away by elements of Dear Wendy, which I reviewed for Music from the Movies a couple of years ago and when I learned that the young composer was working on The Escapist I was excited. Fast forward what seems like an eternity and MovieScore Media (who also made Dear Wendy available) have released the score on CD. The film is one of the unsung gems of recent years, with a stellar cast of British actors (including Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes, Liam Cunningham, Seu Jorge and Steven Mackintosh) and gritty scenes of prison life and daring escape beneath the streets of London. The score is itself something of a breathtaking effort, with Ben scoring for both traditional orchestra and well conceived programming. With ‘Theme from The Escapist’ we’re thrown into an unrelenting, bassy refrain which drives the idea of the escape. The thumping piano and bass strings grab you by the throat and drag you along with its intensity. It’s an absolutely terrific, primal sound and quite a simple idea really, but nonetheless hugely effective. The escape itself – which runs through the film counter to the scenes of its inception within the prison walls – is underscored very creatively with rhythmic clangs and clatters, as programming, piano and bow strikes join forces to propel the band of escapees through the grimy sewers beneath the Capital. These are best heard in the likes of ‘Underground Escape’, ‘Into the Dryer’ and ‘Sump Chase’, while the brilliant main theme is deconstructed throughout as the plan comes together, with hints of it building in ‘Confessional’ and ‘Elegie for Brodie’. There’s an emotive side to the score also, as the music touches on the reason for the escape, Frank Perry’s daughter, who is gravely ill and with whom the life-prisoner wants to make peace. Solo vocal is utilised largely for these elements, with piano, strings and woods here and there (as in ‘Escaltor’) – these moments serve as a suitable antidote to the otherwise pivotal cues found elsewhere. Once again I am left in no doubt that Benjamin Wallfisch is one of the most exciting voices to enter the film music arena in recent years and while he continues to work as an orchestrator and conductor on other people’s scores, let’s hope he finds time to put pencil to paper himself and create more of this entirely listenable and hugely effective film music.

“Stand by for Action!” The Music of Barry Gray is a little gem of an album, though it may only have appeal for those who grew up with the ‘Supermarionaton’ and, later, live-action classic series’ of Gerry Anderson. I for one am too young to fully appreciate the hysteria surrounding the original runs of the likes of Stingray, Fireball XL5, Joe 90 and Thunderbirds, however when I was a child in the early 1990s a number of these shows had something of a renaissance and was certainly hooked on the latter. Going back further into my childhood, I can remember being very afraid of the opening prologue sequence for Capain Scarlet and the Mysterons. The inclusion of the music and sound effects for that scene – including the terrifying footsteps and final gunshot – still manage to make me shiver just a little, ha. This album then takes in snippets, themes and cues from all of Barry Gray’s collaborations with Anderson and takes us from their earliest work (Four Feather Falls) right through the major classics of the mid 1960s, right up to the more ‘modern’ sci-fi adventures with real actors in the form of UFO and Space: 1999. A lot of it is kitsch, with some wonderfully twee sixties-soaked songs and ‘Twists’ offering an amusing and strangely infectious glimpse into the past, while the big guns blaze here and there with wonderful dramatic cues found in the selections from Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and alike. The French-flavoured ‘Perils of Penelope’ in the former, not to mention Joe 90’s ‘International Concerto Suite’, are evidence enough and a prime example of just how multi-talented Gray truly was. The album, from Silva Screen, features informative notes by Ralph Titterton and along with the multi-faceted scores represented, they make for a wonderful tribute to an oft-overlooked master of film and television music.

Finally a couple more titles from MovieScore Media that are in need of a mention, namely Sharon Farber’s touching score for When Nietzsche Wept and Panu Aaltio’s The Home of Dark Butterflies. Both offer music from relative unknowns, which the Swedish label should constantly be commended for. Farber’s score for Pinchas Perry’s emotional drama – based on the novel by Irvin Yalom – is a poignant affair, played out largely with piano and strings, while more orchestral flurries can be found in the romantic and stately ‘Save Nietzsche/I’ll Help Your Friend’. Traditional melody is found in ‘Shabbath Dinner’, while Nietzsche himself is credited with composing ‘Hymnus an das leben’. Performed by soprano Ayama Haviv, accompanied by Farber on piano, it’s a strikingly emotional aria that manages to capture – along with Farber’s larger score – the ultimate fragility and sadness of this complicated emotional man. Equally emotive is Aaltio’s score for Dome Karukoski’s drama about about a teenager who is sent to a boy’s home called ‘The Island’, where he comes to terms with the ghosts of his past. Recorded in London, it’s a fine sound that is created here and through a mixture of minimalist devices, and swathes of strings, Aaltio manages to nail the emotional complexity and spirit of the young protagonist.

Coming soon: A look at Nicholas Hooper’s second Harry Potter score, a couple of premiere albums from James Horner’s past and music from the fourth season of Battlestar Galactica.

With thanks to Mikael Carlsson, David Stoner, Jelena Jancic and Edwin Wendler.

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