It’s been another challenging year selecting, in my opinion, the most noteworthy scores from the world of film, television and video games (and more). Each category had multiple titles that impressed me and I think the nominations this year give a flavour of how strong a year 2015 was in terms of quality.
Basing my choices on a difficult-to-define mix of things such as how much of an emotional impact a work has, how the music works in the project for which it was written or how enjoyable the overall listening experience is, these lists reflect my own personal taste.
I hope that readers of my blog find my choices interesting. I am particularly hopeful that the titles mentioned here open new avenues of musical enjoyment.
OVERALL SCORE OF THE YEAR 2015
- THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (Daniel Pemberton)
- In The Heart of The Sea (Roque Baños)
- Jupiter Ascending (Michael Giacchino)
- La Glace et Le Ciel (Cyrille Aufort)
- The Hateful Eight (Ennio Morricone)
Daniel Pemberton’s score for Guy Ritchie’s take on the classic TV show of the same name is such a fresh-sounding piece. Pemberton’s music transports the listener back immediately to the cool spy shows and films from an earlier era with music that you can’t help but soak up. Every time I listen to this my mood is much more upbeat by the end. Distinctive in sound, it’s a score that deservedly sits at the top of my list for 2015.
BEST SCORE – DRAMA
- IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (Roque Baños)
- Absolution (Stephen McKeon)
- Macbeth (Jed Kurzel)
- The Hateful Eight (Ennio Morricone)
- Wolf Totem (James Horner)
Roque Baños’ In The Heart of The Sea, a film set in the early 1800s retelling a story that apparently inspired the Herman Melville novel, Moby Dick, is a wonderfully entertaining score. Combining modern-day action scoring (i.e., driving ostinato and booming percussion), more tender passages and beautiful vocalisations, Baños delivers an ambitious dramatic score for Ron Howard’s maritime drama that is a pleasure to listen to.
Prolific TV composer Stephen McKeon’s mournful music for the Finnish drama, Absolution (Henkesi Edestä), features strong sombre solo string performances that enhances the Scandinavian roots of the film’s production. Jed Kunzel’s Macbeth also uses sombre and brooding strings, together with a number of impressive unsettling orchestrational soundscapes, to add to Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel’s (the composer’s brother) visceral take on the “Scottish tragedy”. Film and TV music legend Ennio Morricone’s remarkable effort for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is built around two outstanding musical ideas juxtaposed with some ferocious brass-led dissonance and showed that, even well into his eighties, Morricone can still deliver top-notch music. James Horner’s strongly thematic score for Jean-Jacques Annaud’s adventure Wolf Totem (Le Dernier Loup) is made all the more poignant because of the premature death of the composer in June 2015.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: El Rey de La Habana (Joan Valent), Steve Jobs (Daniel Pemberton), Territoriya (Tuomas Kantelinen), Tyttokuningas (Anssi Tikanmäki) and Enas Allos Kosmos (Kostas Christides).
BEST SCORE – ACTION / ADVENTURE / THRILLER
- THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (Daniel Pemberton)
- Bølgen (Magnus Beite)
- Child 44 (Jon Ekstrand)
- Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Joe Kraemer)
- Un Homme Idéal (Cyrille Aufort)
Laid-back fun is the key to Daniel Pemberton’s homage to the spy films of the 1960s in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. Preferring to keep away from the traditional orchestra for a large proportion of the score to Guy Ritchie’s remake of the classic 1960s TV show, Pemberton fills his score with a certain feel that, when looking back over the year, differentiates it from the other spy movies of 2015. It’s a score that just oozes class.
Both Magnus Beite and Joe Kraemer’s scores for Bølgen (The Wave) and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, respectively, are immensely entertaining action scores with the latter integrating Lalo Schifrin’s original TV theme well (something that took some time for me to appreciate). Swedish composer Jon Ekstrand’s claustrophobic score for Child 44 effectively paints a dark and moody scene with low strings and Cyrille Aufort’s Un Homme Idéal (A Perfect Man) maintains the dark, brooding tone of the notable action/thriller titles with the score only occasionally taking on a lighter tone.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: A Dark Reflection (Moritz Schmittat), Battle For Skylark (Josh Cruddas), Kingsman: The Secret Service (Henry Jackman & Matthew Margeson), San Andreas (Andrew Lockington) and The Three Sisters (Alan Sinclair).
BEST SCORE – FANTASY / SCI-FI / HORROR
- JUPITER ASCENDING (Michael Giacchino)
- Cinderella (Patrick Doyle)
- Mad Max: Fury Road (Tom Holkenborg)
- Peter and Wendy (Maurizio Malagnini)
- Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and The Dark Crystal (Javier Navarrete)
Michael Giacchino’s epic Jupiter Ascending is impressive in its quality. It’s full of exuberant action scoring that’s pure fun to listen to, and Giacchino’s percussion together with the varied choral aspects of the score are particularly noteworthy. Despite the extended listening time (100+ minutes), it never outstays its welcome.
Epic grandeur admirably describes Javier Navarrete’s score for the Chinese film Zhong Kui: Snow Girl and The Dark Crystal. Referencing the film’s Eastern origins in the music, Naverrete’s theme-driven score is full of energy. Energy is definitely a necessary descriptor for Tom Holkenborg’s (aka Junkie XL) Mad Max: Fury Road. Earsplittingly relentless (in a good way), impressive action music plays alongside the more emotional moments, offering a respite to the storm of metallic sound design and brutal soundscapes on an industrial scale. Patrick Doyle and Maurizio Malagnini’s scores for films Cinderella and Peter and Wendy, respectively, offer wonderful fantasy scoring, featuring lovely themes and classical-oriented pieces.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Ant-Man (Christophe Beck), Avengers: Age of Ultron (Brian Tyler & Danny Elfman), Skammerens Datter (Jeppe Kaas), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (John Williams) and Turbo Kid (Le Matos).
BEST SCORE – COMEDY
- BILL (Andrew Hewitt)
- Ghosthunters: On Icy Trails (Ralf Wengenmayr)
- Pixels (Henry Jackman)
- R.L. Stine’s Monsterville: Cabinet of Souls (Ryan Shore)
- Spy (Theodore Shapiro)
For a category where I have struggled in the past to find much of note, 2015 offered rich pickings. Andrew Hewitt’s score for Bill, a bawdy period romp charting bard-in-waiting William Shakespeare’s “lost years” and made by the same people who created the wonderfully funny (and educational) Horrible Histories on TV, balances comedy scoring with light action scoring and several period pieces. Hewitt’s music moves quickly between the various styles to create a strong and immensely enjoyable musical experience.
Ralf Wengenmayr’s Ghosthunters: On Icy Trials and Ryan Shore’s R.L. Stine’s Monsterville: Cabinet of Souls mix elements of comedy, drama and hints of light-hearted creepiness together effectively to create scores that entertain when heard away from their respective films. Spy (Theodore Shapiro) taps into the spy films of the 1960s/1970s to create an instantly appealing sound for Paul Feig’s action comedy and Henry Jackman’s Pixels uses entertaining militaristic embellishments with large orchestra to enhance the action.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Anacleto, Agente Secreto (Javier Rodero), La Rançon de La Gloire (Michel Legrand), Risto Räppääjä Ja Sevillan Saituri (Esa Nieminen), Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse (Matthew Margeson) and The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (John Debney).
BEST SCORE – ANIMATION
- PIRATE’S PASSAGE (Andrew Lockington)
- Capture The Flag (Diego Navarro)
- Extraordinary Tales (Sergio de la Puente)
- Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos (Zacarías M. de la Riva)
- The Arti: The Adventure Begins (Chen Chien-chi)
Andrew Lockington’s Pirate’s Passage is a grand rousing orchestral score. Featuring appealing melodies, enjoyable action scoring and tinged with Celtic orchestrations, Lockington’s score is infused with energy and delight and is a worthy winner of a strong category.
Chen Chien-chi’s score for the visually impressive Taiwanese feature The Arti: The Adventure Begins is full of expressive music with grand action set-pieces, unsettling passages and beautifully tender interludes. Zacarías M. de la Riva’s energetic score for the Mexican comedy Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos (Little Rooster’s Egg-cellent Adventure) and Diego Navarro’s impressive Capture The Flag (Altrapa La Bandera) also impress. Sergio de la Puente’s Extraordinary Tales, with its swirling string patterns and gothic organ, adds a darker score to this close-fought race.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Home (Lorne Balfe), Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (Gabriel Yared), Shaun The Sheep Movie (Ilan Eshkeri), The Good Dinosaur (Mychael Danna & Jeff Danna) and The Little Prince (Richard Harvey & Hans Zimmer).
BEST SCORE – DOCUMENTARY
- LA GLACE ET LE CIEL (Cyrille Aufort)
- Jag Stannar Tiden (Johan Ramström)
- The Hunt (Steven Price)
- Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom (Jasha Klebe)
- You Belong To Me: Sex, Race and Murder On The Suwannee River (Geoff Gallegos)
Like most others, this category is particularly strong this year. The stunning beauty of the Antarctic inspires Cyrille Aufort to create a wonderful score for the French documentary La Glace et Le Ciel (Ice and The Sky). Epic majesty tinged with hints of isolation/desolation dominate, but variety is found with interludes of propulsive music and an element of synths included too.
Steven Price’s The Hunt continues the strong scores that are consistently being written for BBC documentaries. Johan Ramström and Jasha Klebe, whose work on Jag Stannar Tiden (I Stop Time) and Winter On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom, respectively, make strong contributions to difficult subjects, composed dark and sombre (and beautiful) music. Geoff Gallegos approaches “dark and sombre” from a different angle in You Belong To Me: Sex, Race and Murder On The Suwannee River, using a small music ensemble to create a brooding, sweltering gem.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Conquest of The Skies (Joel Douek, Elik Alvarez & Freddy Sheinfeld), Einstein’s Light (Bruce Adolphe), Human (Armand Amar), La Mañana de Salzillo (Pedro Contreras) and The Great Human Odyssey (Darren Fung).
BEST SCORE – TELEVISION
- LA DAMA VELATA (Emanuele Bossi & Pasquale Laino)
- Carlos, Rey Emperador (Federico Jusid)
- Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (Benoit Charest & Benoit Groulx)
- Outlander (Bear McCreary)
- Wolf Hall (Debbie Wiseman)
Emanuele Bossi and Pasquale Laino’s score for the period Italian mini-series, La Dama Velata (The Veiled Lady), is an impressive classically-styled score full of intrigue and notable period flourishes that is grand as well as intimate. The score swept me along with a large amount of pleasure.
Debbie Wiseman’s Wolf Hall almost pipped the eventual winner of this category with her take on the machinations in the court of the Tudor king, Henry VIII. Period classical scoring together with more dark, modern-sounding moments fit the drama well. Federico Jusid again impresses with Carlos, Rey Emperador, using full orchestra and choir to create a beautiful score to support the goings-on in the Spanish court. Benoit Charest and Benoit Groulx’s score to the adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s period drama, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and Bear McCreary’s Celtic-inspired writings for the Outlander series were also highlight TV scores of 2015.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Ash vs. Evil Dead (Joseph LoDuca), Da Vinci’s Demons (Season 3) (Bear McCreary), Jordskott (Erik Lewander & Olle Ljungman), Os Dez Mandamentos (William Bordokan, Daniel Figueiredo, João Jacques, Igor Ledermann, Ronaldo Lobo, Edu Luke, Marcelo Penido & Elton Ricardo) and The Musketeers (Season 2) (Paul Englishby).
BEST SCORE – SHORT FILM
- WILD CREATURES (Julian Kantus)
- Blue Borsalino (David M. Saunders)
- Kung Fury (Betamaxx, Highway Superstar, Christoffer Ling, Lost Years & Mitch Murder)
- The Guardian of The Light (Jonas Grauer)
- The Moment I Was Alone (Isaias Garcia)
Wild Creatures, composed by Julian Kantus, binds a number of themes and, together with various effective soundscapes, creates a musical world that effectively narrates the wordless film. It’s a vivid and emotional listen.
Piano and strings in David M. Saunders’ Blue Borsalino capture the darker qualities of Mark Lobatto’s noir-ish film, whilst in The Guardian of The Light Jonas Grauer uses a variety of familiar musical devices to create an effective fantasy genre score and Isaias Garcia’s The Moment I Was Alone tugs at the heartstrings and delivers on the emotional level. Finally, Mitch Murder ramps up the 80s synth nostalgia with Kung Fury.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Mantoson Corporation (Simon Chapelle), Perihelion (Gergö Elekes), Spectrum (Frederik Wiedmann), Stick Man (René Aubry) and The Priest (Spencer Creaghan).
BEST SCORE – INTERACTIVE GAME
- ANNO 2205 (Dynamedion)
- Bloodborne (Ryan Amon, Yuka Kitamura, Tsukasa Saitoh, Nobuyoshi Suzuki, Cris Velasco & Michael Wandmacher)
- Homesick (Heather Schmidt)
- League of Legends (Christian Linke, Sebastien Najand & Alexander Temple)
- Pillars of Eternity (Justin Bell)
Dynamedion impressive score for Anno 2205 mixes orchestra and synths to create a standout score in a tough category.
Ryan Amon and co-composers craft a far darker score with Bloodborne where impressive choral passages linger in the memory. With sweeping strings taking a somewhat more classical path, Christian Linke et al. create an enjoyable score for League of Legends and Justin Bell gives a contemplative feel to Pillars of Eternity, adding some lighter folk-influenced pieces into the mix. Heather Schmidt’s work for Homesick is a masterclass on how to maintain the attention over the course of an hour with the minimum of bombast. Deliberate piano calms the soul and her music adds significantly to the atmosphere of the gameplay.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Dying Light (Pawel Blaszczak), Forza Motorsport 6 (Kaveh Cohen & Michael Nielsen), Revelation (Neal Acree), StarCrawlers (Ben Prunty) and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (Percival, Marcin Przybylowicz & Mikolai Stroinski).
BEST SCORE – OTHER MEDIA
- THE HIDING PLACE (Jared DePasquale)
- Batman: The Long Halloween (Declan Gillgallon)
- Hansel ve Gretel’in Öteki Hikayesi (Tolga Çebi)
- Lùmina (Remo Baldi)
- Tellspiele Interlaken 2015 (Christian Häni)
In a varied category, Jared DePasquale’s dark and melancholic The Hiding Place captures the emotional aspects of the story’s protagonists perfectly, delivering a poignant score. DePasquale opts for emphasising the state of mind of the lead characters through setting moods rather than writing overt themes.
Declan Gillgallon’s Batman: The Long Halloween is an entertainingly dark and brooding piece, whilst Remo Baldi’s Lùmina excites with its varied styles. Variations in musical style are also a hallmark of Tolga Çebi’s score for Hansel ve Gretel’in Öteki Hikayesi and also for Christian Häni’s Tellspiele Interlaken 2015.
BEST SCORE – ARCHIVAL
- THE CAR (1977) (Leonard Rosenman) (Intrada)
- Braveheart (1995) (James Horner) (La-La Land)
- Jaws (1975) (John Williams) (Intrada)
- Obsession (1976) (Bernard Herrmann) (Music Box)
- Total Recall (1990) (Jerry Goldsmith) (Quartet)
I was so pleased when Intrada released Leonard Rosenman’s The Car as I’ve been waiting for a release for as far back as I can remember. Though short, Rosenman’s score pulses with menace and is a worthy (though very personal) winner. As always, Intrada’s presentation is impeccable.
Intrada’s release of John Williams’ Jaws breathes new life into a familiar score with some technical audio wizardry, making Williams’ iconic score sound better than it’s ever sounded. Music Box Records’ presentation of the original tracks from Obsession brings Bernard Herrmann’s powerful score to listeners in a super 2-CD set (featuring the OST and the original LP release) and Quartet Records, along with La-La Land Records, finally do justice to two deserving scores with expanded releases of James Horner’s Braveheart and Jerry Goldsmith’s Total Recall, respectively.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Alien Terrors (1982) (Gavino Morretti), Dances With Wolves (1990) (John Barry), Duel (1971) (Billy Goldenberg), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) (Carmen Dragon) and The Lost Weekend (1945) (Miklós Rózsa).
BEST SCORE – ARCHIVAL (DIGITAL)
- SERRALLONGA (2008) (Joan Valent) (TVC DISC)
- So Weit Die Füße Tragen (2001) (Edward Nicolay Artemyev) (Megaliner)
- Det Største i Verden (2001) (Trond Bjerknes) (Universal Music)
- Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey (2010) (Shawn K. Clement) (Shawn K. Clement)
- The Becquer’s Guide (Season 3): Kishar (2014) (Jesús Calderón) (Jesús Calderón)
Joan Valent’s Serrallonga (TVC DISC) is a sweeping orchestral powerhouse with grand orchestral writing peppered with more delicate passages and memorable choral interludes. One of digital media’s advantages is that it can make excellent scores such as this feasible for commercial release.
Edward Nicolay Artemyev’s menacing So Weit Die Füße Tragen (As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me, Megaliner Records) and Shawn K. Clement’s varied score for the animated science-fiction drama, Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey, offer impressive support in this category. Beautiful piano melodies centred around a lovely theme shine in Trond Bjerknes’ Det Største i Verden (The Greatest Thing, Universal Music) and Jesús Calderón’s TV score from 2014, The Becquer’s Guide (Season 3): Kishar, swings between action-oriented bombast and creepy soundscapes for another excellent listen.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 are: Ekaterina (2014) (Nikolai Rostov), Iskuplenie (2012) (Edward Nicolay Artemyev), Love In The Post (2014) (Peter Coyte), Meurtres à L’Abbaye de Rouen (2014) (Nicolas Jorelle) and Shuffle (2011) (Kurt Kuenne).
BEST SCORE – NEW RECORDING
- OBSESSION (1976) (Bernard Herrmann) (Tadlow)
- Conan The Barbarian (transcribed for organ) (1982) (Basil Poledouris) (Naxos)
- Die Nibelungen (1924) (Gottfried Huppertz) (Pan Classics)
- Rapsodia Satanica (1917) (Pietro Mascagni) (Capriccio)
- Sodom and Gomorrah (1962) (Miklós Rózsa) (Tadlow/Prometheus)
Tadlow’s outstanding re-recording of Bernard Herrmann’s Obsession sits at the top of a number of strong re-recordings released in 2015. This interpretation (with Nic Raine/City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus) shines across the board, highlighting all aspects of the music; orchestra, chorus and church organ.
Basil Polerouris’ Conan The Barbarian features in this year’s new recording category with Naxos’ “shouldn’t-work-but-it-does-spectacularly” organ-only version (played by Philipp Pelster). Tadlow (in partnership with Prometheus Records) excels once again with a monumental effort for Miklós Rózsa’s Sodom and Gomorrah, providing a world premiere recording of the complete score (Nic Raine/ City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus). Making sure that historically important film scores are preserved for future generations, Frank Strobel – working with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony and the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, respectively – directed wonderful recreations of Gottfried Huppertz’s Die Nibelungen (Pan Classics) and Pietro Mascagni’s Rapsodia Satanica (the latter paired with selections from Nino Rota’s Il Gattoprado, Capriccio Records).