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Exodus (Alberto Iglesias)

March 24, 2015


Alberto Iglesias, 2014, Sony Music
32 tracks, 78:07

We’re not used to seeing Alberto Iglesias tackling a film as large and epic as “Exodus”. And working for Ridley Scott no less! Will he be able to convey the scope of this Biblical story?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Directed by Sir Ridley Scott, “Exodus” tells the story of Moses — how he was raised alongside Ramses, banished to the desert and came back to free his enslaved people. The last time this Biblical story received the cinematic treatment was back in 1999 when DreamWorks produced a rather excellent animated film.

Ridley Scott has worked with a number of composers, most notably Vangelis, Hans Zimmer, Jerry Goldsmith and Harry Gregson-Williams, but also Michael Kamen, Trevor Jones, Marc Streitenfeld and Daniel Pemberton. Still… the appointment of Alberto Iglesias on “Exodus” came as quite a surprise. We’re not used to seeing Iglesias such large-scale projects, and that is all the more reason to get excited about it.

What does it sound like?

The album opens a little anonymously with “Opening & War Room” which features a male vocal and ethnic flute against slow strings and choir. Militaristic percussion and a string ostinato take over during the second half of this cue. It’s not until halfway into “Leaving Memphis” that we are treated to ‘proper’ theme that really conveys the story at hand. It’s a beautiful ethnic theme, hitting all the right notes (quite literally) for a Biblical drama. I believe this to be the theme for Moses the shepherd. A stronger theme will appear later in the score, which I believe is linked to the exodus, rather than Moses personally.

“Moses in Pythom” shows the makings of the Exodus theme, but you won’t realise that until you’ve become familiar with the theme later on. There is some beautiful dramatic writing in “Nun’s Story” (low strings and duduk), some quite exciting writing in “Journey to the Village” (strings, percussion and solo string instrument) and again in “Alone in the Desert”.

“I Need a General” is a three-minute exercise in harmony. It’s totally mesmerising even though it’s not much more than various string instruments weaving in and out of focus. It’s at once reminiscent of John Adams’ “Harmonielehere”, Smetana’s “Moldau” and Beethoven’s sixth symphony. Which brings us to what’s really the score’s main theme, the title track “Exodus”. It is on one hand somewhat generic, but on the other hand still satisfying. It’s not as obviously Middle-Eastern as the earlier theme (as introduced in “Leaving Memphis”), but it is more flexible, as subsequent cues will prove.

From the “Exodus” cue onwards, the main theme recurs several times, lending the score a stable melodic core that wasn’t really present during the first half. As the plagues are unleashed, Iglesias offers “Hail” (racing strings, brass and choir) and “Animal Deaths” (a mournful cue with some unsettling harmonies). “We Cross the Mountains” tries to give Moses’ earlier theme the epic treatment, but it doesn’t quite work. The solo cello elsewhere in that cue is more convincing. The album concludes with “The Ten Commandments”, an understated but beautiful cue (including an impressive rendition of Moses’ theme) for strings and choir.

Arguable the highlight of the album is the incredibly moving “Goodbyes” which offers a new theme performed by solo cello and flute, accompanied by deep strings. It is lyrical and absolutely heartfelt; and on par with any of, say, Fernando Velazquez’s heart-wrenching melodies.

For reason we may never fully get to know, the score features additional music by Harry Gregson-Williams and Frederico Jusid. I get the impression that these two composers were hired to ‘beef up’ the score. Gregson-Williams contributes “Hittite Battle” (a high-octane battle track with exciting rhythms and ethnic instrumentation, alongside racing strings and powerful brass), “The Vows” (an enchanting cue offering warm string chords, playful bells and harp and ethnic flute), and “Tsunami” (a tense action cue with powerful percussion, brass stabs and chanting choir).

Jusid’s contributions are “The Coronation” (which opens with soft strings and ends with heralding brass and chanting choir), “Ramses Retaliates” (a brief, but visceral cue for screaming brass, percussion and chanting choir), “Ramses Orders” (a fierce and dark action cue for full orchestra and choir), “Lambs Blood” (which I’m sure utilises Iglesias’ main theme, even though it’s not credited as such… the cue starts slow, but then bursts into live with ethnic percussion and wind instruments), and “The Chariots” (another fast-paced, highly energetic cue for percussion, plenty of ethnic instruments and choir, with the crashing pianos a nice touch). Furthermore, Jusid is co-credited alongside Iglesias on “Moses’ Camp” (which features Moses’ exodus theme offset against understated, but still exciting percussion and dramatic orchestral writing), “Looting” (a brief but insane action cue with dark brass clusters and fast brass-led arpeggios) and “Into The Water” (which sees the exodus theme develop from a heartfelt solo for cello to a glorious performance for full orchestra-and-choir).

Is it any good?

It is a very long album, and it takes its time to really get going. I can’t escape the feeling there are two themes for Moses — one for the shepherd and another for the leader of the Exodus. The former is more rooted in Middle-Eastern harmonies, whilst the second is bolder and more recognisable. Moses’ exodus theme only starts to flourish during the second half of the album, and until then the score relies a little too much on its (beautiful) orchestrations and occasional melodies that are a little too fleeting. I feel that 78 minutes is perhaps a bit too much for this album. That said, there is a lot to enjoy here. Alberto Iglesias surpasses expectations and delivers a score that is grand and ambitious. One can (and probably should) wonder to what degree orchestrator Nicholas Dodd is responsible for that. His orchestrations are vibrant and colourful. The combination of orchestra, choir, percussion and ethnic instruments is expertly executed. Some may find it cliché by now, but… I’m not sure what else you would expect? In a way it’s a shame that Scott deemed it necessary to hire two additional composers to provide a number of action cues. The truth is that whilst Iglesias’ cues are the beautiful ones, those by Jusid and Gregson-Williams are the truly exciting ones. Overall then, this is a surprisingly coherent score with plenty of highlights, provided you’re okay with this hybrid style of orchestra and Middle-Eastern sounds.

Rating [3.5/5]

01. Opening/War Room (2:39)
02. Leaving Memphis (2:03)
03. Hittite Battle (4:16) *
04. Returning to Memphis (2:37)
05. Moses in Pythom (1:50)
06. Nun’s Story (2:18)
07. The Coronation (2:28) **
08. Ramses Retaliates (0:53) **
09. Arm Chop (1:58)
10. Goodbyes (2:41)
11. Journey to the Village (2:14)
12. The Vows (2:24) *
13. Alone in the Desert (1:36)
14. Climbing Mt. Sinai (2:17)
15. I Need a General (3:22)
16. Exodus (2:52)
17. Ramses’s Orders (2:44) **
18. Moses & Nun (1:48)
19. Moses’s Camp (2:42) ***
20. Ramses’ Insomnia (2:58)
21. Hail (2:01)
22. Animal Deaths (2:39)
23. Looting (1:19) ***
24. Ramses’s Own Plague (2:05)
25. Lamb’s Blood (1:39) **
26. We Cross the Mountains (2:51)
27. Into the Water (4:00) ***
28. The Chariots (1:52) **
29. Hebrews (0:58)
30. Tsunami (5:33) *
31. Sword into Water (1:12)
32. The Ten Commandments (3:37)

* Harry Gregson-Williams
** Frederico Jusid
*** Frederico Jusid/Alberto Iglesias

  1. Hey Pete, the ‘I Need a General’ piece is a reinterpretation of Wagner’s Vorspiel from Das Rheingold. And if you like Jusid’s contributions you should definitely check out his scores for the Spanish TV drama ‘Isabel’ they show off more of his dramatic side and are phenomenal.

    • Thanks for clarifying the situation on “I Need a General”… that cue makes more sense now! 🙂 And yes, I’m familiar with his “Isabel” scores, which are phenomenal!

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