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Murder on the Orient Express (Patrick Doyle)

November 11, 2017


Patrick Doyle, Sony Classical 2017
24 tracks, 56:44.

Everyone’s a suspect… but in the end it was the composer in the recording booth with a baton! And he was aided by a director with a pointy ‘tash.

Review by Pete Simons.

Kenneth Brannagh latest film is an adaption of Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express. A great railway journey across Europe turns into a murder mystery as someone is… well… murdered. Everyone’s a suspect and it’s up to Hercule Poirot to figure out who’s done it. There’s a stellar cast including Brannagh himself, Johnny Depp, Judy Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley, Olivia Colman, Derek Jacobi and so on. And let’s not forget, an original score by long-time collaborator Patrick Doyle.

The album opens with a Middle-Eastern flavoured piece for strings and percussion. If authenticity was the aim, then it’s way off the mark, hence I suspect that wasn’t the aim. It’s a fun piece though that sets the listener off on the wrong, as most of the score is a bit more dramatic. “Jaffa to Stamboul” and “Arrival” introduce two more themes. The first has a longing character, whilst the latter is a quite a quirky little thing.

“The Orient Express” features the score’s most memorable theme, despite it appearing only twice (the “Suite” at the end being the other occasion). At its core lies a simple descending 4-note motif. It’s repeated through various chords. A piano rhythm indicates the movement of the train. The repetitive nature of the main theme, or rather motif, makes me wonder if Doyle was going for a Herrmann-esque approach. I’m not too keen on this melody, yet it’s very addictive. I also can’t help but think that it appears more often than it actually does. How deliciously deceptive!

The theme that probably features most often and which is incidentally my favourite is a hypnotic piano melody first heard in “The Armstrong Case”. As said, it returns in quite a few cues, the most impressive being “Justice”, where it’s accompanied by lush strings. Here it’s a poignant adagio with familiar Doyle chord progressions. But… whilst it’s definitely the highlight of this score, it’s no match for Doyle’s best compositions.

My peers are raving about this score. Yet, I’m not. A new Doyle is (almost) always a pleasure and Murder on the Orient Express sure is a fine score. It doesn’t get me all excited though. It’s a little monotonous with a strong emphasis on strings. The piano makes several very welcome appearances, even if it’s just to break through that constant string sound. A duduk is also heard, but I have mixed feelings about it. It works in some cues, but sounds a little contrived in others. A lot of the music sounds a bit samey; and most of the underscore doesn’t excite out of context. I find a lot of the music here a bit ‘static’; long chords, not that much going on, quite simplistic in a way. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I had hoped for a few more flourishes. And then there is a song that is quite pretty from a musical point of view, but the lyrics and the way they’re sung are so over the top sincere, it makes “My Heart Will Go On” sound like Sharespeare.

I admire Doyle for really letting his themes drive his scores, and Murder on the Orient Express offers a few beauties that are heard throughout the score. It’s quite an understated score though; and despite a handful of lovely cues, away from the movie it doesn’t really excite me.

(c) 2017 Synchrotones

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