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Tale of a Lake (Panu Aaltio)

February 27, 2016

Cover_TaleofaLakeTALE OF A LAKE

Panu Aaltio, 2016, Movie Scre Media
22 tracks, 62:43

After the incredible, beautiful and IFMCA Award-winning “Tale of a Forest” can composer Panu Aaltio pull it off once more with the ‘sequel’ “Tale of a Lake”?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

In 2012, “A Tale of a Forest” by Finnish composer Panu Aaltio was voted as the Best Original Documentary Score by the International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA). 2016 sees the release of “Tale of a Lake” where writer/director/producer Marko Röhr and editor/director Kim Saarniluoto return with another breathtaking overview of the country’s natural beauties. The documentary focuses on the world of rivers and the thousands of lakes of Finland with stories ranging from birds, fish and their spawn, to the lives of critically endangered seal pups. Featuring the narration of Samuli Edelmann, and Johanna Kurkela as the voice of the mystical water spirit Ahitar.

What does it sound like?

The album opens with the dreamy “Ahitar, The Water Spirit” featuring an airy vocal performance by Johanna Kurkela. Ahitar’s theme returns several times throughout the score. “Spring Brook” is a playful and colourful cue for full orchestra, though with an emphasis on strings and winds. During the second half, flute introduces what I might call the main theme of the score, as it receives a more stately version in the titular cue “Tale of a Lake”. It’s a lovely melody, and flexible too. Not only does Aaltio change its orchestrations, he also plays with its meter (it’s played in 3/4 in “Spring Brook”, and in 4/4 during “Tale of a Lake”).

“Hide and Seek” is a playful cue with intricate interactions between various wind instruments (bassoon, clarinet and flute in particular).”First Morning” is likely the highlight of the score for most listeners, as it opens with a reprise of Ahitar’s theme, before introducing an incredibly upbeat melody for strings, winds and light percussion. With these few cues alone, Aaltio has taken us on a little journey from the pastoral to the majestic and the playful.

“Tale of a Lake continues the series started by “Tale of a Forest”, but is not a direct sequel.” explains composer Panu Aaltio. This time the score aims for a more mythical angle, focusing on the majesty, the mystery and the serenity of Finland’s thousands of lakes. “A big challenge was to have all new themes while still having a connection between the movies. One of our main new elements is the vocal, amazingly performed by Johanna Kurkela. Her singing acts as the wordless voice of the protagonist, Ahitar, the water spirit.”

The virtuous style Aaltio introduced in cues like “Hide and Seek”, continues in “Reunion” and indeed throughout the score. After a fast-paced string-driven and quite classical opening, “Reunion” also boast a powerful rendition of the main theme. “A Family Divided” briefly changes the tone with its sombre play for piano and cello; however with “Bug Ballet” we’re back in the happy land as Aaltio reprises material from “Hide and Seek” and “Spring Brook” and turns it into an even more festive cue than its two predecessors.

And so the album carries on. It is, for the vast majority, an incredibly lively and colourful score without becoming incessant. There’s a lot going on, both in terms of melodies as well as orchestrations, but the score remains light-footed – exactly like “Tale of a Forest”. In fact, I can’t help but think that “Lake” might be even more frivolous than “Forest”! It could be slightly deceptive, as I also believe the recording is a little clearer and sharper on “Lake”. Melodically and stylistically both scores are definitely related; and whilst they don’t actually share any themes, they do share plenty of characteristics. But… what “Lake” doesn’t have is a “A Forest Adventure”, that incredibly upbeat, ‘makes you want to get up and dance’,  cue. Though, that was an extraordinary highlight, even on an album as strong as that.

But I digress. Back to “Lake”! Cues like “The Swarm”, “Ancient Spirits” (the majestic brass towards the end reminds me of Richard Harvey’s writing), “Under the Frozen Surface” and “Life in the Depths” add some ‘darker’ drama; whilst “Coming of the Fall”, “Children”, “The Birds’  Farewell” and “Seal Pup” add incredible beauty, often through slow strings and cello. To simply sum up the cues like this doesn’t do the album any justice, but there are only so many ways to say how playful and colourful it is, or how clever the counterpoint is. The score concludes with “The Water Cycle” where Aaltio lets rip and transforms his subtle main theme into a powerhouse anthem (which, for me, somehow triggered a memory of “Shrek” – likely because it’s got an ‘epic celtic’ vibe).

Is it any good?

Panu Aaltio’s “Tale of a Lake” is a magnificent album. Have I mentioned recently how playful and colourful it is? There is a modern twist to some of the melodies, but the orchestrations and performance have a classical character. Much like “Tale of a Forest” I can hear influences from Scandinavian and Russian composers, or at least I think I can! The inter-play between various instruments is fascinating, and it’s something you hardly hear outside of nature documentaries (or the odd John Williams score). There are a few themes here that return throughout most of the score, and Aaltio provides the listener with a real challenge to discover all their clever variations. “Tale of a Lake” is an incredible album; one that’s bound that put a spring in your step. I can’t wait for whatever tales Aaltio may have up his sleeve.

Rating [4.5/5]


01. Ahitar (The Water Spirit) 3:37
02. Spring Brook 1:55
03. Tale of a Lake 2:16
04. Hide and Seek 3:40
05. First Morning 4:56
06. Reunion 1:40
07. A Family Divided 1:46
08. Bug Ballet 2:34
09. The Spawn 2:10
10. Frog Wrestling 3:06
11. Ancient Spirits 1:58
12. Coming of the Fall 1:35
13. Macro World 2:33
14. Children 2:52
15. The Gulls and the Eagle 2:12
16. Brisk and Idle 2:06
17. The Birds’ Farewell 2:23
18. Under the Frozen Surface 3:15
19. Life in the Depths 4:44
20. Crab Guardians 3:38
21. Seal Pup 5:49
22. The Water Cycle 2:13

For more information visit MovieScoreMedia’s website.

Review (C) 2016 Synchrotones

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