Latest reviews of new albums:
Notre-Dame Brûle
  • Composed by Simon Franglen

Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, Notre-Dame Brûle (a French phrase that even I can translate) tells the story of the fire in Paris’s iconic cathedral. While his films have tended to fall somewhat below the radar of late, there’s no doubting Annaud’s ability to create a visual spectacle – nor indeed his appreciation for grand film music. His previous two films were both scored by James Horner and both were highlights of the great composer’s later years, the underrated Black Gold and his final sweeping epic, Wolf Totem, and it’s great to see Annaud retaining some of that musical DNA by enlisting Simon Franglen to score this film (as he did with the tv miniseries he directed a few years back). As with the composer’s previous score, The Curse of Turandot, there are times here when it is like listening to new Horner music – but these times are pleasingly spread out amongst a swathe of music which is in this composer’s own voice. The dramatic architecture of the score is perhaps not a surprise – it opens all big and majestic, with a liturgical air thanks to the vocals, in “Paris Morning” – we have some sprightly, lovely music in “The Workmen Arrive” – but not long later things very much go south.

Broken Keys
  • Composed by Gabriel Yared

A pianist has to flee his home town after it is taken over by ISIS who ban all music in Broken Keys, a Lebanese film. In the process his piano is shot and he literally has to repair the broken keys, amid great danger. Gabriel Yared was born in Lebanon himself and his thoughtful score straddles two distinct styles – there’s light, classically-styled beautiful pieces (very much recalling The English Patient in style) contrasting with some urgent, much more modern material for the action and more intense dramatic moments. Some of the transitions between these styles can be a little jarring, but Yared generally handles it deftly; it should come as no surprise however that I much prefer it when he remains in the former style – his bread and butter – and offers some of his trademark melancholic beauty.

Beyond the Summit
  • Composed by Paula Olaz

A Spanish film about a man who suffers an accident on the first day of his attempt to climb Annapurna and the relationship that develops with the woman who rescues and cares for him, while he obsesses with resuming his ascent, Beyond the Summit has had only a limited cinema release so far but has attracted some good notices. Paula Olaz’s score is really interesting, going firmly against the grain of what you might expect from this sort of film. Her instrumental palette is striking: a saxophone quartet, strings and piano mix with various ethnic instruments and electronics to create a unique sound. Interestingly it’s the saxes and not the strings which seem designed to portray the warmer side of the relationship between the two characters – the main theme which opens the album certainly does this, with some vaguely Thomas Newman-like percussion joining the fun – and she does so much with the theme. She twists it right round at times – the same saxes sound so completely different in a piece like “Searching for Mateo”, now cold and harsh and distant.

The Sound of Violet
  • Composed by Conrad Pope

Written and directed by Allen Wolf, The Sound of Violet concerns the relationship between an autistic man who believes the woman he is dating loves him – not realising that she is in fact a prostitute. They both see the potential in the relationship, but for wildly differing reasons. The score is by Conrad Pope, one of Hollywood’s most renowned orchestrators who also dabbles – disappointingly infrequently – as a composer, including on Wolf’s previous film In My Sleep. The opening cue of this, “Every Date is New”, is a beautifully elegant piece – a charming main theme heard in a sprightly piano solo with accompaniment from pizzicato strings and harp, it’s summery and charming. The early portion of the score continues in this vein – a joyful expression of falling in love, with feeling and energy and that lovely main theme never far away.

Turning Red
  • Composed by Ludwig Göransson

The latest straight-to-streaming Pixar movie, Turning Red is another bold and different movie from the studio, in which a young Canadian girl of Chinese heritage discovers that when she’s angry she turns into a giant red panda. And she’s angry quite a lot, but not when she’s listening to her favourite boy bands or playing with her friends. The film is set in the early 2000s and features a few songs for a fictionalised boy band in the movie, written by Finneas O’Connell and Billie Eilish. If early 2000s boy bands are your thing, then you will truly be able to fill your boots. The highly eclectic score is by Ludwig Göransson, who as well as his film and tv music work has served as an arranger and producer of pop music. That side of him is evident in parts of the score, which sound like backing tracks from early Britney Spears songs. I was going to write something about the timeless elegance Randy Newman gave Pixar when he defined the sound of their earlier movies until I realised that he did that a quarter of a century ago and I must keep up with the times.

Uncharted

Composed by Ramin Djawadi Continuing the long-established trend of movies based on video games being released to critical acclaim, Uncharted has set the box office alight with its tale of a grouchy archaeologist (played by veteran British character actor Tom Hollander) scouring the world in search of the ark of the covenant proving to be […]

Moonfall

Composed by Thomas Wander & Harald Kloser Remember when Roland Emmerich movies used to be good? No, neither do I. I have to say though that his previous one, Midway – a disaster movie of a very different kind to his usual – was actually very well done. He returns to his usual kind of […]

The Batman

Composed by Michael Giacchino Four notes. Relentless. Aggressive. Dah-dah-dah-DAAAHHH. (Apologies to less technically-inclined musicians for introducing such complex notation so early on.) Sometimes keyboards. Sometimes growling brass. Sometimes just the timpani. But always: four notes. The four stages of a bat: birth, early life, later life, death. One note for each. The first three – […]

Griminelli Plays Morricone

Composed by Ennio Morricone Flute virtuoso Andrea Griminelli has been one of Italy’s classical music superstars for decades now. Amongst his prior performances was the première of Ennio Morricone’s flute concerto a number of years ago, and now he has released a tribute album to the legendary film composer. It is very much a “crossover” […]

Ennio Morricone: Piano Music

Composed by Ennio Morricone The acclaimed pianist Roberto Prosseda became one of numerous artists to record tributes to the great Ennio Morricone following his death in 2020. This solo piano album presents some of the composer’s “absolute music” (as he always called it) alongside piano transcriptions of various film themes. While it is not the […]

Il Volo Sings Morricone

Composed by Ennio Morricone There have been various vocal compilations of Ennio Morricone songs over the years from a vast range of vocalists; the pick of them, inevitably, is when the Maestro himself was involved and my favourite of all was Focus, a collection sung by the great Portuguese singer Dulce Pontes. In tribute to […]

Encanto

Score by Germaine Franco Songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda An extremely colourful and beautifully-designed film, Encanto is an interesting contrast to the usual Disney formula. The “hero” is not a princess, doesn’t have magical powers – indeed, nicely, she is the only member of her family who doesn’t – there isn’t really a “villain” at all […]

The Wheel of Time

Composed by Lorne Balfe Based on Robert Jordan’s series of fantasy novels, The Wheel of Time is Amazon’s high-profile grab at a Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings-sized audience. The familiar tropes are there – a group of ordinary people plucked from their lives to fulfil an epic quest, assisted by magic and […]

The Power of the Dog

Composed by Jonny Greenwood We have seen it before, of course – the two asteroid movies, Deep Impact and Armageddon; the two anthropomorphic small insect movies, A Bug’s Life and Antz – and now 2021 sees two movies about canine hijinks released shortly after one another, with The Power of the Dog following a few […]

Eternals

Composed by Ramin Djawadi 2021’s third Marvel movie, Eternals introduces a whole host of new characters to take part in the endless fight between good and evil. They’ve evidently been biding their time up until now. Interestingly, all three of these movies have been met with somewhat lukewarm receptions – not just from critics (it […]