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The White Crow (Ilan Eshkeri)

May 2, 2019

Ralph Fiennes’ third film also marks the third collaboration with composer Ilan Eshkeri. Here the composer faces the challenge of creating a score that interacts with classical ballet pieces from the likes of Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Ludwig Minkus and Alexander Krein, as the film tells the true story of Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev’s defection to the West in 1961.

Ilan Eshkeri is such a wonderfully gifted composer, as he’s proven time and time again with scores like The Young Victoria, Austenland and of course Stardust. His latest score is no exception. The White Crow also marks the third collaboration with director Ralph Fiennes, so it would seem a special working relationship has developed between them. Fiennes movie has been lauded as his best yet; and it’s clear from numerous articles that the man has a passion for Russian culture. Eshkeri appears to share that passion here, as he delivers a beautifully dramatic score for a relatively small orchestra, with stunning performances by Lisa Batiashvili (violin), Danny Driver and Dudana Mazmanishvili (both piano). The performing orchestras are the London Metropolitan and the Belgrave Philharmonic, conducted by Andy Brown.

The album opens deceptively quiet with the mysterious and atmospheric “Trans-siberian Express”, which is made up from several eerie string chords. Things soon become livelier with the racing strings of “Paris”, where a solo violin soars above subtle string and brass arpeggios. “La Sainte-Chapelle” is an incredible cue: dramatic, passionate, full of longing and anguish. Those emotions are rivalled and arguably surpassed in “Nureyev”, another of the score’s highlight. The thriller element of the film really comes to the fore during the 6-minute “Le Bourget”, though Eshkeri never strays too far from the classical and ballet-esque style of the score. The album comes to a glorious end with the title cue “The White Crow” which combines compositions from Tchaikovsky and Eshkeri, beautifully arranged by Jessica Dannheisser.

The score dances around a handful of classical pieces from Tchaikovsky, Minkus and Krein. Interestingly (and luckily) these selections deviate from the usual familiar ones, which really helps the overall narrative of the album, as you’re not suddenly confronted with an overly familiar piece; though that’s not to say you won’t recognise the classical pieces (I mean, you’ll know Minkus’ “La Bayadere” when you hear it). Also worth noting is how the classical cues and Eshkeri’s score match each other in terms of orchestrations. Again, it really allows for a beautiful and consistent narrative.

The White Crow is a very short album. It runs for 34 minutes, of which about twenty are Eshkeri’s. But what little there is… is astounding. Both Eshkeri’s compositions and violinist Lisa Batiashvili’s performance of them are masterful, dramatic and passionate. Highly recommended.

The White Crow, Ilan Eshkeri, Deutsche Grammaphon 2018, 15 tracks, 34m. [4.5/5]

Review by Pete Simons (c) 2018 Synchrotones Soundtrack Reviews

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