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May Film Music Overview

We are almost to the next potential summer blockbuster season and with that will come big action hopeful blockbusters to try and entice us all into the theater. There were a few new interesting film music releases that are worth taking notice for as we get ready for the summer.

Some special "limited edition" releases are worth mentioning as we begin here. Classical music fans will be quite familiar with Raymond Leppard as one of the influential conductors responsible for a revival of interest in Baroque music through his many recordings and in his revival of the work of Claudio Monteverdi and other opera composers of the era. But he was also a proponent of new music as well and a composer in his own right. The latter has been all but forgotten, but Kritzerland Records has released one of his rare film scores for the uneven period film Alfred the Great (1969). Leppard's music blends that ancient period sound with modern harmonies and some fine melodic writing in this score that aligns with other films of this type in the decade (Beckett, The Lion In Winter, A Man For All Seasons). The film tanked, but the curious will want to track down this limited edition release before it disappears again. Also of note is an Intrada remastering and release of James Horner's Jumanji (1995). There are some fine action sequences in this score which features a less memorable thematic idea. It tends to be one of the better examples of Horner's use of orchestral color and texture. A remastered version of the OST is also part of this new package that presents the score in film order. Star Trek fans will also want to be sure and pick up the 4-disc set The Final Frontier from La-La Land which is a compilation of various cues from across the different television series including some main/end title variants and some newly-realized pieces intended for 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Jerry Goldsmith.

As a side note, I also want to point out composer Alex Heffes' new solo piano release, Sudden Light which features him playing a variety of themes from his various film projects. Heffes is a composer well worth getting to know as he crafts quite engaging material which adds just the right emotional connection. This is a downloadable release so check this out.

There were a few other newer releases that appeared in May (less due to a little vacation on my part so I'm still catching up a bit. For the adventurous, it is worth checking out the music for The Northman. Composed by the team of Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough, it is an intriguing score filled with experimentation to address a 1st-Century tribal story line minus the trappings of orchestral music from a later time. Electronic effects blending archaic instrumentation and sounds along with a variety of percussion aids the strangeness of the score. Like the scores for his earlier films, Eggers has chosen a musical direction that continues to enhance the strange storylines and subjects he explores in his films. All this helps to draw us out of our contemporary lives and hopes to better immerse ourselves in the story unfolding on the screen. While the score will be another rougher listen, it is still quite impressive for its unique take on scoring an ancient epic film which seems to take its cues from horror genre writing and avant-garde concert music. While the opening third tends to assault the senses, it is not long before all the sounds, effects, and instrumental qualities merge into transporting us into a strange old world. It is their first feature score.

Egyptian composer Hesham Nazih gets a chance at a wider audience with his excellent score for the Marvel miniseries Moon Knight on Disney+. Nazih has worked in Egyptian cinema for the better part of two decades on a variety of blockbusters and brings that experience to bear here on this impressive score with great thematic continuity and plenty of action music for fans of that genre. He provides some rather intriguing blends of electronics and orchestra with chorus that shift back and forth. By doing so he manages to create that ancient world/modernist feel for the score that flows through this presentation. These move from the mysterious to a more declamatory style. The result is a solid action score with ample music here for fans new and old.Nazih builds on the big orchestral sound of composers like Goldsmith and Silvestri (especially their Mummy scores) most.

Another little surprise this month was a brief score by Hans Zimmer for an HBO film directed by Barry Levinson. The Survivor is a quite fascinating dramatic score that demonstrates Zimmer’s skill at shaping scenes and crafting intriguing atmospheric backdrops. It has a variety of musical gestures that one can hear in some of the composer’s later work but in this score they feel more personal. There is an added intensity that gets at the emotional core without overwhelming things while also adding a necessary punch to stark and disturbing moments. There are moments in the score that reference some of the Eastern European spiritual minimalists in the slow, unfolding material that is explored here. This is perhaps one of the more compelling scores Zimmer has written in a while.

Finally, in case you hadn't heard, there is a new Downtown Abbey movie heading to theaters soon. A New Era finds serie's composer John Lunn to provide the score. With the generous amount of music that has been released from the series, and even the 2019 film, I did not have high expectations for this score as it seemed like we had heard about all that could be done with that period style. Fortunately, this score is a true delight that allows for some nods to the primary theme while adding in some stylized period jazz and a bit of mid-century English string style. Waltzes and touches of French musical gestures open up additional musical avenues that Lunn navigates with some of the most gorgeous writing and heart-melting themes that should add just the right emotional tug to picture. The lighter moments have a sort of Laurie Johnson feel while some of the post-minimalist inflections also nod to Alexandre Desplat's style. But all in all, the score shows Lunn's personal voice opening up more in a quite assured work.

A host of new music beckons and I am also looking forward to Intrada's recent release of John Williams' underrated score for Spacecamp (1986).


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