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Beautiful western score from underappreciated composer
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Pixar; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
This tale of Mexican revolution received some good notices when it appeared in 1989, though quickly disappeared from the conciousness. It's perhaps most well-known today as one of the final screen performances by the legendary Gregory Peck - and he was joined in the excellent cast by Jane Fonda and Jimmy Smits. The film's musical score was provided by Lee Holdridge, a frequently-acclaimed composer who rarely works on high-quality productions, but rarely attracts anything but rave reviews.
His score for Old Gringo is a delight, a beautiful, wistful piece of rich orchestral writing. As one might expect, it's like a western score, with plenty of hispanic touches to reflect the location. The main theme, heard in the "Prologue", is a beautiful string-led love theme; but even that is eclipsed by "Ride to the Hacienda", the score's gorgeous second cue, featuring a simply outstanding theme recalling great Mexicana scores of the past, particularly Alex North's Viva Zapata! - it's a strong and memorable piece. A fine piece of action music, "The Battle", follows, with boistrous, brassy music certainly raising the thrills. However, the piece does sadly expose the album's only real flaw, which is the very thin-sounding recording - it sounds like the orchestra is probably a lot smaller than is really needed for music as rich and expansive as this, which is such a pity. The music itself is first-rate, certainly showing off the composer at his finest - those who love orchestral music with a touch of hispanic flair will be in their element with this one. "The Mirrors" is another wonderfully expansive piece, full of all the same ingredients that make scores like Lonesome Dove and Dances with Wolves so attractive.
It's certainly the finest Holdridge score that I've heard, and makes one wish that he was working more regularly on projects high-profile enough to generate soundtrack albums. There are precious few of his scores available, but for those wondering what the fuss is about, this is the best place to start - copies of GNP Crescendo's album are still available from Amazon after all these years. With such rich, colourful, expressive music as this, it's not hard to see why the score is held in such high esteem by so many.