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Transsiberian (Alfonso de Vilallonga)

February 9, 2015

Cover_TranssiberianPrincesasTRANSSIBERIAN / PRINCESAS

Alfonso de Vilallonga, 2014, Caldera
27 tracks, 56:27

The score for Brad Anderson’s 2008 thriller “Transsiberian” finally gets an album release, courtesy of Caldera records. Also includes music from “Princesas”. Both score by Alfonso de Vilallonga.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

“Transsiberian” is a thriller from 2008 directed by Brad Anderson (of “Session 9”, “The Machinist”, “Stonehearst Asylum“). A Trans-Siberian train journey from China to Moscow becomes a thrilling chase of deception and murder when an American couple encounters a mysterious pair of fellow travelers. It features an impressive cast, including Wood Harrelson, Ben Kingsley and Emily Mortimer.

Not only is Brad Anderson a gifted filmmaker, he also has a great ear for music. He’s worked with Roque Banos, Lucas Vidal and John Debney. The score for “Transsiberian” is written by Catalonian composer Alfonso de Vilallonga. As it’s a fairly short score, record label Caldera coupled it with “Princesas”, another short score from the Spanish composer.

As is common practice with Caldera, the album concludes with an audio commentary by the composer. Villalonga talks about his musical career and about “Transsiberian” and “Princesas” in particular. Whilst it’s the last track on the album, I’d recommend listening to it first, as it explains the composer’s intentions for both scores.

What does it sound like?

“Transsiberian” was Vilallonga’s first thriller score. Despite the use of a temp track, the composer insisted he approach the film from his own point of view. He wanted to do something a little less conventional that a typical thriller score. Villalonga wanted to base his score around the characters.

The score is heavy on the strings (with an emphasis on solo violin and cello), but also features woodwinds, some horns, a little bit of percussion and piano. At times, cellos and double-basses are chugging away, huffing and puffing like the train itself. Especially in “Let’s Go Chase”,  a cue that Vilallonga himself describes as the most descriptive cue, as it has to move along with the film.

The album opens with “Vladivostok” which features dark chords and a hint of balalaika, given it a slight Russian feel. “All Aboard” is a livelier cue with a slow horn theme over a fast, syncopated rhythm for pizzicato strings. It is later reprised in “Irkutzk”, though the pluck violins have been replaced with staccato cello (or violas), almost imitating the rhythm of the train.

“Walk and Talk” introduces a moody theme for low clarinet and strings. I suspect it’s a subdued love theme. To me, there’s something old-fashioned about it. Like it’s from a 1960s thriller, rather than 2000s one. And that may very well be deliberate on both the director’s and the composer’s part. This theme is reprised in “I Will Still Love You” and “I Need to See Her”.

Solo cello plays a large role throughout this score and especially in “Church Kiss”, in which a mournful performance becomes ever more aggressive. “Problems with the Truth” is one of the score’s livelier cues as Horner-like horns augment staccato passages for strings.

As mentioned before, the score for “Transsiberian” is coupled with another work by Vilallonga – “Princesas”. This film explores the life of prostitutes, working on the outskirts of Barcelona. In the composer’s own words it’s a personal, simple and warm score. He played a number of instruments himself, practically composing the score by playing it.

Compared to “Transsiberian” it’s a little more colourful, as piano, harmonica, and guitar play a more prominent role; but it’s still a low-key, slow-moving score. It does have a lovely main theme (featuring guitar, piano, clarinet, glockenspiel and strings) that is reprised several times throughout the score. It gives the score, and the characters, a heart.

Is it any good?

Both “Transsiberian” and “Princesas” are immersive score – the former more so. “Transsiberian” is a brooding work, dominated by strings and woodwinds, often performing in the lower registers. “Princesas” is more colourful, with a more prominent role for piano and guitars, but still takes an understated approach to the film. As such, it is an album that requires (and deserves) your time. It’s not one for instant musical gratification, but it is one that gets under your skin.

Rating [3/5]


“Transsiberian” –

01. Vladivostok (2:22)
02. All Aboard (1:22)
03. Walk and Talk (3:00)
04. Bad Girl Past (1:11)
05. Church Kiss (1:45)
06. Heroin (1:43)
07. I Will Keep an Eye (0:50)
08. You Can Never Go Back (1:12)
09. Problems With the Truth (1:54)
10. Irkutzk (0:58)
11. I Will Still Love You (0:50)
12. Let’s Go Chase (5:10)
13. I Need to See Her (1:21)
14. Abby’s Dream (1:48)

“Princesas” –

15. Spilled Coffee (1:06)
16. Cuchillos (1:32)
17. Hotel (1:01)
18. Maltratada (2:37)
19. Cuento (Original) (2:30)
20. Voluntario (2:07)
21. Cuento (Mar) (1:46)
22. Analisis (Guitarra) (2:26)
23. Cuento (Aeropuerto) (2:31)
24. Cuento (Final) (2:00)
25. Cuento (Cuerda) (1:59)
26. Cuento (Piano) (1:54)


For more information and availability, check out Caldera’s official website.



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