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Princess Ka’iulani
  • Composed by Stephen Warbeck
  • MovieScore Media / 2011 / 48:58

Princess Ka’iulani was heir to the Hawaiian monarchy at the time it was overthrown in 1893 and went on to campaign for the islands’ rights and sovereignty until her early death six years later.  The film had a fairly modest budget (around $9m) but still only managed to take in less than 10% of that on its very limited, little-publicised release.  Most reviews it did get were positive about its music, composed by Stephen Warbeck, who won an Oscar in 1999 but has only scored five films many people will have heard of in the twelve subsequent years (and the last of those, Proof, was as long ago as 2005).  I’m not too sure why his career hasn’t taken off in the way many people would have expected – he has a lush, romantic style of composition which would certainly favour the Rachel Portman / period drama type film, but for whatever reason he has struggled to find high-profile projects to score and – while he has worked steadily – little of his music has been available.

It actually took almost two years from the festival début of Princess Ka’iulani to the release of this soundtrack album from MovieScore Media, but it was certainly worth the wait.  This is a very strong, thoroughly melodic delight, anchored around a beautiful main theme frequently heard for piano, with string accompaniment.  It’s certainly lush, but in no way lightweight – there’s a permanent undercurrent of drama.  While the music is performed by the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, Warbeck makes few concessions to the traditional music of the islands (probably a blessing, given the cliché-ridden sound produced by most film composers when they try it) – it’s fully symphonic throughout.  Perhaps the highlight is the piano piece “Ka’iulani”, elegantly classical and truly beautiful.  As the score grows towards its conclusion, Warbeck adds more than a little dose of tragedy, but his music never becomes less impressive.  This is a terrific album, highly recommended.  ****

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  1. Mastadge (Reply) on Sunday 13 November, 2011 at 16:03

    I like this one a lot. It’s too bad it wasn’t released last year, where it could at least have gotten some word of mouth on best-of-the-year lists; now it’s a pretty hard sell, I think.

    I’d love someday to hear Warbeck’s rejected score for GAME OF THRONES.