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Maria di Nazaret
  • Composed by Guy Farley
  • Caldera Records / 2015 / 78m

An epic 2012 Italian tv production, Maria di Nazaret tells the story of Jesus’s life through the eyes of his mother, with German actress Alissa Jung as Mary and Spaniard Paz Vega as Mary Magdalene.  Giacomo Campiotti’s film attracted a massive audience and decent reviews when it was shown by the Italian state broadcaster RAI in 2012 but, despite being filmed in English and getting an enthusiastic reception, has been little-seen elsewhere.

British composer Guy Farley has developed a slightly curious niche alongside his various British movies, doing a few of these Italian tv spectacles over the years.  (In this album’s liner notes he speaks enthusiastically about the experience.). This 2015 release from Caldera is very welcome, not just because of Maria di Nazaret‘s quality (it’s one of the finest things I’ve heard from him so far) but also because as a bonus it includes selections from another of his Italian projects, 2006’s L’uomo che sognava con le aquile, and also a track from the 2004 Jean-Claude van Damme action movie Wake of Death.

Guy Farley

Guy Farley

Maria is a rich, melodic score that (not unusually for Farley) has a hint of John Barry about it at times, and a similar feeling to some of Ennio Morricone’s scores for religious-themed Italian tv productions (he has written many of them over the years).  It’s based around two beautiful themes, one for each Mary (but there’s plenty of other melodic material besides).  “Mary’s Theme” opens the album and immediately brings to mind those two great film composers – a lush, sweeping, romantic melody à la Morricone put into a late-period Barry orchestration, the cue is brief and leaves one hungering for more – fortunately, it arrives.

The edgy main title piece is much darker, surprisingly modern (complete with electronics) and features various exotic instrumentalists and female voice.  Then there’s another nod to Morricone in “The Serpent”, the suspense style that opens the score familiar from many of the great composer’s scores and then the solo voice clearly reminiscent of his legendary work with Edda dell’Orso.  “Mary’s Journey” introduces the second theme, which is rather sad, less outwardly expressive than the first but still leaving an impression.  “Shepherds” sees the score getting closest to the “religious epic” sound of the past, soaring to biblical proportions; this contrasts with the Barry-like suspense that follows in “The Game”.

Much of the score is based on that material presented in the opening few cues (the most major exception being the harrowing “39 Lashes”, which is both intense and moving, and the subsequent “The Cross” which is dark and difficult, unsurprisingly).  While admittedly there are times when it begins to sound just a little bit samey, and there’s a proliferation of rather short cues, these are really only minor detractions; there is a broad enough base of material to keep interest levels high (and the first theme in particular is so beautiful).  I like the orchestration too – the orchestra is credited as “The Chamber Orchestra of London” but is clearly augmented well beyond chamber size, and the exotic soloists (oud, duduk etc) add colour but are not overused (which has sometimes been the case in such scores).  The slightly more modern (hint of Gladiator) elements fit the feel well and the two vocalists (Tanja Tzarovska and Lucy Johnson) give soulful, passionate performances which are a real boon.

After Maria di Nazaret, which runs a generous 54 minutes, is “Reunited” from Wake of Death, which is surprisingly complementary.  A piano melody is joined by a female voice and strings, with a requiem feel to it, an unabashed sweep running through it which is very attractive indeed.  Then comes a longer selection of music from L’uomo che sognava con le aquile, about an Italian cheesemaker whose way of life is threatened by a planned tourist attraction.  (Really.)  The score has a lighter, pastoral feel to it, beautifully summed up in the playful opening title piece.  There’s a lilting guitar melody introduced in “Roberto Explores”, summery and romantic and really lovely.  It’s a breezy, whimsical delight of a score and its inclusion is a real bonus.

As with most of Caldera’s releases, the album concludes with some audio commentary from the composer – I really like this innovation (I suppose the thoughts could be written down in the liner notes instead but it’s nice to hear it in the composer’s own voice).  The label’s first release was Farley’s score for Secret Sharer and that was a very impressive album; this one is even better.  His music seems to come from the heart and on this album is very rich and rewarding.  Don’t let this one fall under your radar.

Rating: **** | |

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  1. Kalman (Reply) on Friday 25 September, 2015 at 08:00

    I don’t now, I have listened to this CD three times so far but I still haven’t found anything similar to Morricone or Barry. Every review mentions these two composers and Morricone is my absolute favourite but I still can’t compare Farley’s melodies to his (nor to Barry’s).

    As a matter of fact I prefer the music of L’uomo che sognava con le aquile to Maria di Nazaret. It’s more varied and melodic. Also, the one track from Wake of Death is great.

    All in all, it’s good music, but considering my expectations with all the reviews citing Morricone and Barry, it’s a little bit of a letdown. Listening to it I didn’t feel my spirit lifted nearly as much as the music of those two composers always makes me feel.