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2017 Round Up Part 3

September 10, 2017

2017 Round Up – Part 2

Synchrotones presents its monthly round-up: a brief overview of soundtrack releases that didn’t get their own dedicated review. And sorry we missed the March edition. So let’s focus on those scores that got away. In this article … The Zookeeper’s Wife by Harry Gregson-Williams, Unforgiven by Lennie Niehaus and Clint Eastwood, Look and See by Kerry Muzzy, Their Finest by Rachel Portman, and Gifted by Rob Simonsen.

Today I’d like to focus on a few scores that would fall (largely) into the “lovely” category. The kind that gets overlooked easily, but is worth exploring and revisiting. First up is The Zookeeper’s Wife by Harry Gregson-Williams. The opening cue “Warsaw Zoo, 1939” is a total delight with its whimsical piano-and-woodwinds play. Strings and brass play a subtle role too. It’s sprightly and rather Thomas Newman-like. Its playful nature does make way for something altogether more dramatic and suspenseful; but even here Gregson-Williams maintains a level of elegance that really lifts this score above its peers. “Come Back To Us” brings us back to the opening material. It’s still as beautiful, but more sombre and melancholy in tone. “Home Again” offers hope through soft strings and a rising piano motif. It’s a little bit sombre, and ever so gentle; and ultimately heart-warming. The album concludes with “Jan Returns”, a wonderful summary of the score’s themes and motifs. Orchestrations, mixing and recording are wonderful throughout.

Varese Sarabande has released Unforgiven, by Lennie Niehaus and Clint Eastwood, on vinyl. Good enough reason to revisit this score from twenty-five years ago. I have to say, it’s not aged very well. Eastwood’s “Claudia’s Theme” is still lovely — a simple, but memorable melody for guitar (though it does remind me a little of Frank Sinatra’s “I did it my way”). Niehaus’ score features a surprising amount of synths; the quality (or rather the lack thereof) of these really date the score. These tend to be suspense cues, often sounding like something from the 80s rather than the 90s. Where the small acoustic orchestra is allowed to shine, the score does really come to live. These are usually moments for strings, guitar and solo horn; and usually reprising the main theme. At 35 minutes it’s not a long score, but even then… half of it is unimpressive suspense music, whilst the other half ranges from sweet to almost sweepingly romantic.

A documentary about farming life in Kentucky, Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry features a score by Kerry Muzzy. It’s modern, neo-classical score that focuses primarily on the piano; in a similar as Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm and perhaps even Philip Glass might do. So if you’re into those sort of composers you might find something to enjoy here. I’m quite the sucker for this kind of music, so I’m enjoying Look and See very much even though it keeps reminding me of Arnalds; and also I can’t really hear how this music relates to farming. It’s emotional music, but it’s also very generic. This sort of music sits atop of many different films and tv-shows; perhaps indicating that this sort of music is more about what you get out of it rather than what’s been put in. Nonetheless, Muzzy does a grand job with this style and I can’t help but love it. There’s some nice digital trickery going on alongside the raw sounding piano.

So, Rachel Portman’s Their Finest is a pretty little thing. The album opens with a flirty theme for strings and woodwinds. It’s a lovely, whimsical melody that’s been buzzing around my head quite frequently for the last few weeks. “I’d Miss You” offers a solemn piano theme, again very pretty… very simple and honest. In all, Portman presents a few themes and juggles with them throughout the score, giving plenty of air time to each of them. The orchestrations are fairly light, with an emphasis on strings, winds and piano. A trumpet occasionally adds extra nobility. Cues are short and the whole album runs for about 35 minutes. Portman’s music expertly moves between romance and drama. No, there is nothing new here, but it is beautifully executed; and probably the finest romantic drama score I’ve heard this year.

In Gifted, Frank Adler is a single man raising a child prodigy – his spirited young niece Mary. Frank’s plans for a normal school life for Mary are foiled when the seven-year-old’s mathematical abilities come to the attention of Frank’s formidable mother Evelyn, whose plans for her granddaughter threaten to separate Frank and Mary. The score is by contemporary composer Rob Simonsen (Nerve). His music is both playful and dramatic, and relies on both orchestral and electronic elements. It’s a style that is recognisably his; and the score makes for a nice follow-up to his excellent Nerve. His main theme is quite a quirky little thing for a plucked or malleted sound (something like a synthesized marimba). There are moving string passages, as well as suspenseful synth-driven cues. In terms of composition, dare I say it’s relatively easy-going. With Simonsen I do often feel that style is king; and I have no problem with that. I love his style; it’s very clean and ‘cool’. And I do believe that underneath the uber-polished sounds there lies a score with heart and soul.

Reviews by Pete Simons (C) 2017 Synchrotones

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