2017 has been another excellent for music composed for film, television and games (as well as other categories). Composers for projects from the biggest industry projects right down to small, independent outfits have all taken advantages of the opportunities presented to them. This has made my job of selecting, what I believe to be some of the highlights of 2017 very difficult. This is something I say every year – thank goodness! – but it’s a good situation to be in.
I’ve found when looking back on my choices that dark, complex scores have been particularly well represented in the lists. These selections may not be to everyone’s taste but I hope that people reading this blog are reminded of some of their own favourites or even discover some new ‘gems’.
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 do wonder whether singling out individual scores for praise when there’s so much wonderful music around is a good idea but, in the end, my goal is to highlight some of the best music being written for film, television and games (and beyond).
OVERALL SCORE OF THE YEAR 2017
- KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD (Daniel Pemberton)
- The Death of Stalin (Christopher Willis)
- The Great Wall (Ramin Djawadi)
- The Star (John Paesano)
- Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Alexandre Desplat)
Daniel Pemberton teaming up with director Guy Ritchie seems to be a very fruitful partnership. On the back of Pemberton taking the 2015 Reel Music Award for his score to Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the composer has again topped the category of overall score of the year with his brilliant score for the director’s take on the King Arthur story, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. From when I first heard the score, the whole sound that Pemberton and his team have come up with is something that I haven’t really come across before in my years of listening to film music. That quality is becoming increasingly difficult both in terms of just how much great and varied music there is out there, but also it seems harder for composers to experiment, to come up with something fresh rather than sticking to the tried and tested (what studio execs may call the ‘safe’ option?). As well as the expected quality to the music itself – and the emotions generated therein – each cue is a fascinating ‘how did he do that?’ exercise that makes the score more rewarding with every listen. There’s track after track of excellent compositions which means that, even running to almost 90 minutes for the digital release, the score doesn’t outstay its welcome. King Arthur is the most enjoyable score I have heard from Pemberton and, for me, is an obvious choice as score of 2017. There’s a short ‘making of…’ video on YouTube that gives a little insight into how the score came about.
ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A DRAMA FEATURE
- GRAMIGNA (Franco Eco)
- 95 (Panu Aaltio)
- Chervonyy (Franco Eco)
- Delirium (Fiona Howe)
- Tuntematon Sotilas (Unknown Soldier) (Lasse Enersen)
Franco Eco’s score for the Italian drama Gramigna echoes the story’s subject of choosing between right and wrong, good and evil, and how the film’s protagonist decides between the two. Effective dark ominous soundscapes, low brooding strings and tension-inducing percussion are effective and a great opposite to the lighter strings and piano-based themes for – I presume – the more positive influences found in the story. There’s not much that’s particularly new here, but the way in which Eco approaches the subject and challenges is very enjoyable. Eco’s 2017 has been particularly strong (he had 3 scores in this year’s Reel Music Awards nominations) and scores like this make me look forward to what he has for us in 2018 and beyond.
One of Eco’s other major scores of 2017 is Chervonyy, a Ukrainian drama set in a Soviet GULAG. The darker subject matter means that there’s more ominous soundscape here for the oppressive setting of the movie. However, Eco’s use of almost religious-styled choral passages (there are cue titles such as ‘Dies Irae’, ‘Urbi et Orbi’, etc) plays starkly against powerful driving percussion and excellent strings. German-born Lasse Enersen’s score for the Finnish war movie, Tuntematon Sotilas, is another strong emotionally-driven score that this time centres on Finland’s struggle against the Soviet Union during the Second World War. Enersen’s score expertly uses strings – low strings for more oppressive aspects of the story and very emotionally-charged strings for thematic material for the more personal parts – that challenges the listener and is ultimately very rewarding: which is just the type of score that appeals. Panu Aaltio’s score for 95, a Finnish movie which tells the story of the Finnish ice hockey’s victory in the 1995 World Championship final, is a super piece and features some of the most exciting and inspiring music written for a sports film I have heard. It’s not just about the action as Aaltio also gives us some excellently emotional and lower key moments. It’s an excellent score that, hopefully, will receive a commercial release at some point in the future. Fiona Howe produced and composed the music for the feature Delirium, a film covering the struggles of a composer to write a Requiem. The score is full of beautifully-rendered choral pieces used in the film itself, and features the film’s central Requiem. A small ensemble of 20-25 musicians delivers a wonderfully intimate and emotionally powerful score with some great cello solos being particularly memorable.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 in this category are: Bitter Harvest (Benjamin Wallfisch), Butterfly Kisses (Nathan Klein), El Jugador de Ajedrez (The Chessplayer) (Alejandro Vivas), My Cousin Rachel (Rael Jones) and Voice from the Stone (Michael Wandmacher)
ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A COMEDY FEATURE
- THE DEATH OF STALIN (Christopher Willis)
- Il Crimine Non Va In Pensione (Franco Eco)
- Knock (Cyrille Aufort)
- Los del Túnel (The Tunnel) (Carles Cases)
- Santa & Cie (Matthieu Gonet)
Armando Iannucci’s dark comedy, The Death of Stalin, is blessed with a great score from relative newcomer Christopher Willis. Willis’ choice of Russian-influenced music for this movie may not seem novel but what’s so memorable about this score is that the music is so impressive. I’m frequently reminded of the music featured in classic Russian movies such as Battleship Potemkin (admittedly Shostakovich’s symphonic music that was used in later versions of Eisenstein’s classic). But Willis fashions his score into something that’s individual to him and this movie. There’s not much ‘comedy music’ but there’s plenty of great film music here.
Franco Eco’s score for the Italian ‘caper’ movie, Il Crimine Non Va In Pensione, is an excellent little score that certainly brings a smile to my face. Rather than using an orchestra, Eco goes for a more funky kind of score: twangy guitars, energetic drum kits and Hammond organs create a believable backdrop for a storyline that features a group of pensioners heading off to rob a bingo hall. Eco counterbalances this energy with some lovely (and calmer) piano solos. Cyrille Aufort’s score for the French comedy Knock stays on the right side of comedic scoring (for my tastes) and creates a light and frivolous score that is based around a quirky but excellent main theme. The French holiday comedy, Santa & Cie, features a score from Matthieu Gonet and it’s full of Christmas cheer, with magical choir and sleigh bell percussion giving the appropriately festive feel to an orchestral score that’s both thematic and expressive. There’s always something going on in Gonet’s score and it’s such an engaging score that the album’s short running time flies by even more quickly. Carles Cases’ score for the Spanish comedy-drama Los del Túnel focuses on the emotional trials and relationships of a group of survivors of a tunnel collapse. The best word to use to describe Cases’ score is ‘tender’ and the composer deftly blends a string ensemble with a number of woodwind solos and restrained brass to create a delicate and expressive score.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 in this category are: Ali’s Wedding (Nigel Westlake), Becker: Kungen av Tingsryd (Jens Lindgård & Petter Lindgård), Jailbreak (Fabio Guglielmo Anastasi), Saattokeikka (Unexpected Journey) (Pessi Levanto) and Vazvishenie (Heights) (Petar Dundakov)
ORIGINAL SCORE FOR AN ACTION/ADVENTURE/THRILLER FEATURE
- KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD (Daniel Pemberton)
- Hànwèi zhě (Defenders) (Liu Ye)
- Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Henry Jackman & Matthew Margeson)
- Lôi Báo (Christopher Wong)
- xXx: Return of Xander Cage (Brian Tyler & Robert Lydecker)
Sometimes it feels as though Daniel Pemberton has made the conscious decision to throw everything that could possible make a sound into his score for Guy Ritchie’s take on the familiar King Arthur legend, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. A traditional orchestra, unusual solo instruments, metal buckets, stones and the human voice (and breath) all feature in what manages to become one of the most unusual scores of the year. And it all makes perfect sense because of the vision of the composer who sees what all these various elements are for and what they can achieve. It’s a weird and interesting journey that will stay in the memory for some time to come.
Composing duo Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson team up again for the second Kingsman movie, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and they continue from where they left off from original movie with another fun actions score. Reprising their catchy original theme and adding new elements, I found this to be just as entertaining a listen as the first score of the franchise. Another composing duo – this time Brian Tyler and Robert Lydecker – come together for xXx: Return of Xander Cage. I love Tyler’s blending of orchestra and percussion/drum kit for a lot of his scores and his mark is clearly here. It’s a great little action score with a hint of the spy movie about it and it’s well worth hearing. Christopher Wong’s score for Lôi Báo, a Vietnamese movie about a man who acquires superhuman powers after receiving some sort of experimental medical treatment, also goes down the dramatic orchestra and bold percussion route but also features some beautiful solos that break up the action. It’s all very listenable and somehow there’s a freshness about the score that adds even more appeal. The Chinese war film Hànwèi zhě (Defenders), composed by Liu Ye, also features an orchestral score that uses sweeping strings and percussion to drive the action. But there’s more of an emotional side to the score compared with other action scores highlighted here, and it’s these more mournful and emotional passages that are particularly impressive.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 in this category are: American Assassin (Steven Price), The Crash (Guy Moon), HhhH: The Man With the Iron Heart (Guillaume Roussel), London Heist (James Edward Barker) and Xia Dao Lian Meng (The Adventurers) (Tuomas Kantelinen)
ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A FANTASY/SCIENCE-FICTION/HORROR FEATURE
- THE GREAT WALL (Ramin Djawadi)
- A Ghost Story (Daniel Hart)
- Posledniy Bogatyr (The Last Warrior) (George Kallis)
- Thor: Ragnarok (Mark Mothersbaugh)
- Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Alexandre Desplat)
I am a sucker for bold, epic orchestral scoring with in-your-face percussion that has an oriental twist, and Ramin Djawadi’s score for the monster movie The Great Wall delivers all of these in very large quantities. Opening with a wonderful choral section before things really get going, Djawadi’s music is immensely entertaining. Some may feel that it’s a bit too in-your-face but I’ve been sitting on this score for almost a year waiting for something to come along and bump it off my top spot but nothing really came close. Exciting and thematic, it’s a very enjoyable score and worth the position at the top of this very competitive list.
Mark Mothersbaugh’s Thor: Ragnarok and Alexandre Desplat’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets were also very strong contenders though. Mothersbaugh’s score is a fun blend of epic orchestral scoring mixed with some unusual electronic elements that does help to differentiate it from other actions scores with grand epic orchestral music. A fine score from a composer who I wasn’t too familiar with. Desplat’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is as accomplished as one would expect from such a talented composer. The orchestra gets a brisk workout from Desplat’s exciting action scoring – which I did find a bit tiring after a while – but the variety of themes on show and Desplat’s strong choice of orchestration were a strong highlight of the year. Also a strong contender – with a lot in common with Mothersbaugh and Desplat’s scores – is relative newcomer George Kallis’ score for the Russian fantasy film, Posledniy Bogatyr (The Last Warrior). Restrained quieter passages are especially magical when heard against some of the more exuberant orchestral action scoring. Kallis shows an assured command of all the sections of the orchestra meaning that this score ended very high in my list for this category. There’s a harshness to the way that the strings that open Daniel Hart’s score for the supernatural drama, A Ghost Story, sound that makes you sit up and listen. Mournful strings that fall somewhere between the likes of Phillip Glass and Arvo Pärt are haunting to hear. These strings dominate the score and Hart’s minimal approach is extremely unsettling especially when the limited orchestral palette is combined with ghostly soundscapes.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 in this category are: A Fairy’s Game (Gerardo Garcia Jr & Isabelle Engman-Bredvik), It (Benjamin Wallfisch), Hexe Lilli: Rettet Weihnachten (Lily The Witch Saves Christmas) (Anne-Kathrin Dern), The Mummy (Brian Tyler) and Raw (Jim Williams)
ORIGINAL SCORE FOR AN ANIMATED FEATURE
- THE STAR (John Paesano)
- Ferdinand (John Powell)
- Smurfs: The Lost Village (Christopher Lennertz)
- Spark: A Space Tail (Robert Duncan)
- Tadeo Jones 2: El Secreto Del Rey Midas (Tad Jones: The Hero Returns) (Zacarías M. De La Riva)
John Paesano’s score for The Star – a movie that tells the Christmas story through the eyes of animals – opens with a mix of the fairy tale and biblical epic and from those first few bars of music the remainder is just a joy to listen to. At times playful, dramatic and epic, Paesano puts the orchestra and choir through its paces and the 45 minute album passes in no time at all. The composer balances the action and drama with the more playful and comedic parts well leading to a satisfying conclusion.
Zacarías M. De La Riva’s score for directors David Alonso and Enrique Gato’s animated adventure, Tadeo Jones 2: El Secreto Del Rey Midas, is straight out of the Indiana Jones universe of grand action and adventure scoring. The composer uses the orchestra to great effect, and instils the music with genuine thrills as well as wonder. I found Christopher Lennertz’s Smurfs: The Lost Village a surprisingly good listen the first time I heard it – my expectations were not high for a score written for a Smurfs movie. Lennertz writes some excellent action music as well as creating some wonderfully emotional passages. To me, influences from other great film composers are apparent and the chopping-and-changing between musical styles does break up the listening experience somewhat, but the score as a whole is very worthwhile and was one of the surprises of the year in this category. Another surprise was Robert Duncan’s enthusiastic score for director Aaron Woodley’s Spark: A Space Tail. From what I’ve seen and read, the animation isn’t quite up to the mark when compared with the likes of Disney but Duncan’s music is as good as anything currently being written for top-tier animated films. Wonderfully thematic, the orchestra seems to have had a most enjoyable time with this score and it’s well worth a listen. John Powell’s Ferdinand is a fun and entertaining score and is infused with many Spanish influences. Central to this is the use of Spanish guitar that Powell incorporates seamlessly with the orchestra. It’s a score that has moments of brash action set alongside period where the orchestra is reigned in and beautiful emotions dominate.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 in this category are: Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (Theodore Shapiro), Despicable Me 3 (Heitor Pereira), Gojira: Kaiju Wakusei (Godzilla: Monster Planet) (Takayuki Hattori), The LEGO Ninjago Movie (Mark Mothersbaugh) and Muumien Taikatalvi (Moomins and the Winter Wonderland) (Łukasz Targosz)
ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
- BETTING ON ZERO (Pete Anthony)
- Banking On Bitcoin (Ben Prunty)
- Intent to Destroy (Serj Tankian)
- LA 92 (Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans)
- McLaren (David Long)
The documentary feature category this year was one of the hardest categories to choose: so many great scores and a lot of variety on show. imdb.com describes Betting On Zero as a film that “follows controversial hedge fund titan Bill Ackman as he puts a billion dollars on the line in his crusade to expose Herbalife as the largest pyramid scheme in history” – a description that, on the face of it, wouldn’t bode well for inspiring a quality film score. However, Pete Anthony’s score for is infused with tension and a subtle feeling of peril and he uses his experience as an orchestrator to get the most out of his modest orchestral ensemble.
Banking On Bitcoin is another documentary covering money and finance but this time it’s a film trying to explain what bitcoin is and how it will affect our lives. Ben Prunty’s score is an engaging electronic score – perhaps to reflect the electronic nature of the bitcoin? Each track offers a self-contained musical idea that underscores the various aspects covered in the documentary. Composing duo Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans’ score for the film LA 92 that covers the turbulent period around the verdict in the Rodney King trial uses small ensembles of musicians to create very powerful musical studies on the various aspects of the story. Piano and particularly string solos (with pizzicato strings featuring prominently) give an edginess to the score the subject requires. Documentaries about harrowing subjects that feature impressive scores continues with Armenian-American singer-songwriter and composer Serj Tankian’s powerful composition for Intent To Destroy, a documentary describing the Armenian Genocide and the denials put out by today’s Turkish government that this lesser-known holocaust ever took place. The score is dominated by instruments in their lowest register to reflect the horrors of the events but appropriate ethnic instruments and piano puncture the bleakness of the score; a score that is, despite its feel, is a very worthwhile experience. New Zealander David Long’s score for the biographical documentary McLaren catches the drive and adrenaline of motor racing, some of the exotic locales frequented by this sport and the McLaren Motor Racing team founder, Bruce McLaren’s own personal drive to succeed in a very insular sport. The composer ably achieves this by using a small orchestral ensemble of musicians that is augmented with bold rhythmic beats.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 in this category are: America’s Great War 1917-1918 (David Reyes), Bernabéu (Antonio Fernández Ruiz), Earth: One Amazing Day (Alex Heffes), Tokyo, Cataclysmes et Renaissances (Tokyo Phoenix, the Rise of Modern Japan) (Gérard Cohen-Tannugi) and The Wounds We Cannot See (Miro Kepinski)
ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A TELEVISION SERIES
- ATTACK ON TITAN (SHINGEKI NO KYOJIN) [SEASON 2] (Hiroyuki Sawano)
- Re:CREATORS [Season 1] (Hiroyuki Sawano)
- Reinas (Queens) [Season 1] (Carlos Martin)
- Ruler: Master of the Mask (Goonjoo-Gamyunui Jooin) [Season 1] (Jeon Chang-yup)
- Tiempos de Guerra (Morocco: In Times of War) [Season 1] (Federico Jusid)
The sheer scale of Hiroyuki Sawano’s score for the second season of the Japanese anime TV series Attack On Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) is impressive. Spread over 2 CDs, Sawano’s music is a powerhouse of orchestral testosterone mixed with pounding percussion and what sounds like a huge choir. Moving between epic action scoring, beautifully rendered thematic material and interspersed with more intimate solo passages, each track (and there’s over 30 of them) offers something interesting. It’s television scoring at its best.
Sawano’s 2017 has been very fruitful. His score for another Japanese anime, Re:Creators, is another epic creation. Not as orchestral as Attack On Titan (though orchestra does feature heavily), Re:Creators has much more of an urban electronic component which juxtaposes with less intense – but equally impressive – passages. My daughter’s interest in K-drama, on this occasion a TV series drama set in 18th century Korea, put me on to Jeon Chang-yup’s Ruler: Master of the Mask (Goonjoo-Gamyunui Jooin). The composer scores this with a sense of drama that’s only occasionally coloured with Asian influences and focuses rather on the emotional string writing so loved by this genre. Spain’s impressive previous history of TV scoring of historical dramas continues with Carlos Martin’s Reinas (Queens), a drama about the conflict between England’s Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots who some thought was the rightful queen of England, and Federico Jusid’s Tiempo de Guerra (Morocco: In Times of War) which follows a group of Spanish nurses in North Africa during the armed conflict in the 1920s between the colonial power Spain and the indigenous Berber tribes. Both feature impressive orchestral scores portraying the drama of both conflicts, Martin’s score also features more subtle and subdued passages for solo instruments reflecting the personal conflicts of the two main protagonists whilst Jusid’s gives emphasis to the bond between the group of nurses caught up in the conflict surrounding them
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 in this category are: Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga (Ao no Ekusoshisuto: Kyoto Fujouou-hen) [Season 1] (Hiroyuki Sawano & Kohta Yamamoto), Charité [Season 1] (Martin Lingnau & Ingmar Süberkrüb), Jean-Claude Van Johnson [Season 1] (Joseph Trapanese), Knight’s and Magic [Season 1] (Tomohiro Akiura, Masato Koda & Junichi Sato) and Trotskiy (Trotsky) [Season 1] (Ryan Otter)
ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A VIDEO GAME OR OTHER INTERACTIVE MEDIA
- RIME (David García Díaz)
- ARK: Survival Evolved (Gareth Coker)
- Halo Wars 2 (Gordy Haab, Brian Trifon & Brian Lee White)
- So Let Us Melt (Jessica Curry)
- Valkyria: Azure Revolution (Yasunori Mitsuda)
This category was another particularly difficult one to decide upon, with there being only the slightest of differences deciding being between all the nominations. David García Díaz’s outstanding score for RiME is truly breathtaking and highlights actions sequences with full-blooded use of the orchestra, then pulling back with more delicate passages when action isn’t required. The addition of ethereal voices only adds to the magic created.
Any other year Jessica Curry’s So Let Us Melt would probably nab the top spot in this category. It’s such a fresh listen, with the prominent use of a choir being used firstly as a driver of the emotional side of the music and, secondly, as a novel rhythm section with the latter being the aspect of the score that lingers particularly in the mind. Yasunori Mitsuda’s Valkyria: Azure Revolution and Halo Wars 2 (Gordy Haab, Brian Trifon & Brian Lee White) are notable scores centred around what most people would expect in a score from today’s major game releases: the sound of a huge orchestra, bold and exciting action scoring and a big amount of chorus. Gareth Coker’s score for ARK: Survival Evolved is also full of action and excitement, but it’s slightly more restrained compared with Mitsuda and Haab et al’s efforts. A strong rhythmic percussion presence works to keep the adrenaline levels high in ARK too.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 in this category are: Heroes of the Storm (Glenn Stafford & Jason Hayes), Invisigun Heroes (Ali Bavarian & Shadi Muklashy), LEGO Worlds (Rob Westwood & Tess Tyler), Oure (Ian Livingstone) and Raid: World War II (Ivan Selak)
ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A SHORT FILM
- THE TINWIFE (Zak Millman)
- All The Marbles (Robert Lydecker)
- HERO (Robin Hoffmann)
- Major Grom (Roman Seliverstov)
- Upside Down Revolution (Nelson Santoni)
The Tinwife, composed by Zak Millman, is a score straight out of the world of the 1950s film and television world of Alfred Hitchcock and Rod Serling. Set in a futuristic 1950s, the movie follows a woman imprisoned in an interment facility for unwanted android housewives. Echoing perfectly the Twilight Zone scores of Bernard Herrmann, Millman brings together a series of unusual orchestral compositions to create a tense and edgy score that’s bleak and with little levity. Just my sort of scoring!
Robin Hoffmann’s HERO, Robert Lydecker’s All The Marbles and Major Grom (Roman Seliverstov) are all exciting orchestral scores that wouldn’t sound out of place in any major Hollywood blockbuster. HERO in particular is a rollercoaster ride, its short running time full of nods to vintage action scoring from the 80s and 90s. Seliverstov’s Major Grom uses strong rhythms alongside a frenetic orchestra to provide the drive and excitement. Nelson Santoni’s score for the Upside Down Revolution is a much darker project; at least to begin with. The film captures, through dance, the movement of a dancer from a world of two dimensions (the ground) up into the three dimensional world (via a solitary pole). Oppression, determination and soaring release are all captured with Santoni’s excellent score.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 in this category are: AXIOME (Yoann Turpin), Cello (Randy Kerber), Combined Arms Pt II – Wrath From Orbit (AlexZander), First Comes Abigail (W.F. Quinn Smith) and Hot Lead (Sam Mills)
ORIGINAL SCORE FOR OTHER MEDIA
- FRONTIER (Adam Crystal)
- Antigone (Trevor Kowalski)
- Purged (Peter Laws)
- The Rope & The Gun (T.R.Josset)
- The Women of Troy (Benji Inniger)
Adam Crystal’s score for the ballet Frontier – a space-age ballet (choreographed by Ethan Stiefel) inspired by the John F. Kennedy’s speech to Congress calling for an ambitious US space program – is a piece full of mesmerising rhythms, orchestral solos and occasional electronic additions that mirrors the drive and excitement of pioneers of space exploration and highlights the infinite vistas of space. This score made an immediate impression when I first heard it back in May 2017 and it’s still an excellent listen.
Benji Inniger’s score for an adaption of the ancient Greek drama The Women of Troy is an impressive piece written predominantly for small string ensemble and supported by beautiful female voices. Following the fate of the women of Troy after the fall of their city and the killing of their husbands, Inniger’s score is mournful but very listenable. Trevor Kowalski’s similarly mournful score for small string ensemble written for the Greek tragedy, Antigone, uses strings in a slightly different way compared with Inniger’s score. Kowalski recreates the play’s themes of death and grieving in his music with long, wailing calls from solo strings throughout, making for a difficult but ultimately rewarding listen. Peter Laws’ score for his own novel, Purged, is good mix of orchestra, piano and electronics that creates tension and occasional excitement for his music that’s inspired by his macabre crime story. T.R.Josset’s score for the “lost film” The Rope & The Gun is a wonderfully indulgent homage to the Spaghetti Western scores of composers such as Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai. The composer takes the “usual suspects” of this genre of music – harmonica, whistling and catchy brass solos – and fashions these with his own ideas to create a soundtrack that’s a lot of fun.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 in this category are: 9 Kroku k Temnote: Temnota (Marek Mrkvička), Escisión (Eneko Azedo), Orgy of the Vampires (TERRORTRON), Rick Turner’s Road Rage (Markus Spillner & Jan Nordus), and Warehouse X (Jacob Boston)
NEW ARCHIVAL RELEASE (PHYSICAL MEDIA)
- DAMNATION ALLEY (1977) (Jerry Goldsmith) Intrada Special Collection
- 249. La Noche En Que Una Becaria Encontró a Emiliano Revilla (2016) (José Sánchez-Sanz) Kronos Records
- Albion: The Enchanted Stallion (2016) (George Kallis) MovieScore Media
- E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) (John Williams) La-La Land Records
- Wonder Woman (1975) (Various Artists) La-La Land Records
The release of Jerry Goldsmith’s Damnation Alley is an impressive achievement. As well as an audio restoration of the original tapes, Intrada commissioned “synthesizer wizard” Leigh Phillips to re-perform the electronic parts to the score. The integration of the newly-recorded segments with the original score is seamless. This, together with the fact that Damnation Alley is a highlight example of the great output of Goldsmith at the time, makes for a landmark release.
La-La Land Records’ release of John Williams’ E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial to celebrate the film’s 35th Anniversary is as lavish as you would expect. Completely restored and remastered, the package of film score presentation, the original 1982 soundtrack album, and a raft of alternate tracks does Williams’ score proud. La-La Land’s lavish treatment also features in a 3-CD set of original music from the classic seventies Wonder Woman TV series. Featuring music composed by the likes of Charles Fox, Robert O. Ragland and Angela Morley, this set contains a wonderful variety of music mixing traditional orchestra, rock, pop and jazz that recreates the whole feel of the iconic TV show. George Kallis’ score for Albion: The Enchanted Stallion, a fantasy-adventure film that transports a 12-year-old girl to a mystical world, is particularly noteworthy for its bold and lovely orchestral score supported by a magical choral element. Together, all the elements reinforces the magical feel of the movie. José Sánchez-Sanz’s impressive and intelligent score for the Spanish thriller 249. La Noche En Que Una Becaria Encontró a Emiliano Revilla is memorable for the level of energy and tension the composer gives to the score: using the orchestra to composer interesting music rather than creating a tense soundscape so popular in today’s thrillers.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 in this category are: The Caine Mutiny (1954, Max Steiner) [Intrada Records], Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, John Williams) [La-La Land Records], The Rifleman (1958, Herschel Burke Gilbert) [Laurel Records], The Sons of Katie Elder (1965, Elmer Bernstein) [La-La Land Records] and Star Trek Voyager Collection (1995, Various Artists) [La-La Land Records]
NEW ARCHIVAL RELEASE (PHYSICAL MEDIA) – RE-RECORDING
- THE GADFLY (1955) (Dimitri Shostakovich) Mark Fitz-Gerald/Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz/Naxos
- Ben-Hur (1959) (Miklós Rózsa) Nic Raine/City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra/Tadlow Music
- Duel In The Sun (1946) (Dimitri Tiomkin) Nic Raine/City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra/Prometheus Records/Tadlow Music
- Scott of the Antarctic (1948) (Ralph Vaughan Williams) Martin Yates/Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Dutton Epoch
- Thriller (1960) (Jerry Goldsmith) Nic Raine/City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra/Tadlow Music
Having only been familiar with the orchestral concert suite version (Op. 97a) of Shostakovich’s score for the 1955 Russian film, The Gadfly, it is such a treat to hear Mark Fitz-Gerald’s reconstruction of the complete original score. Created from the composer’s original manuscript or taken down by ear from the film, Naxos’ release provides a fresh look at a familiar piece and is expertly played by the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz.
Tadlow Music and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (CoPPO) (under the baton of Nic Raine) provides three of the top re-recordings of 2017. The grandeur of Miklós Rózsa’s Ben-Hur and Dimitri Tiomkin’s epic Duel Under The Sun (produced in partnership with Prometheus Records) are skilfully recreated in these pristine recordings. A selection of suites of Jerry Goldsmith’s music for the 1960s American anthology series Thriller further highlights the talents of the Tadlow Music team and orchestra. Rather than grandeur and the epic, Thriller features small ensembles creating wonderfully dark nuggets of music; music that is in keeping with the mysterious and gothic nature of the stories. The new complete recording of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ tremendous score for Scott of the Antarctic features almost twice as much music as was featured in the final film. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Martin Yates provides a great balance between conveying the bleakness of the film and Vaughan Williams’ score and portraying the emotional challenges faced by the story’s main characters.
NEW ARCHIVAL RELEASE (DIGITAL MEDIA)
- INGEN MANNS LAND (2015) (Emil Kristoffersen Børø) Rusten-Spiker Film As
- La Sargento Matacho (2015) (Alejandro Ramírez Rojas) Alejandro Ramírez Rojas
- Les Misérables (Jared DePasquale) Focus on the Family
- Sant’Antonio di Padova (2002) (Marco Frisina) Image Music
- Wodan: Timbur Coaster (2012) (GER, Hendrik Schwarzer) Mack Music
Emil Kristoffersen Børø’s score for Ingen Manns Land (No Man’s Land) is a striking small ensemble score that relies heavily on strings to create a bleak and foreboding soundtrack that echoes the desolate setting for this Norwegian movie. The composer also succeeds in creating the strong emotional supports for the film from an apparently limited budget.
Alejandro Ramírez Rojas’ score for La Sargento Matacho, a drama documenting the story of bandit groups in Columbia during the second half of the 20th century, melds sparse string passages with more dramatic moments to focus firmly on the emotional side of the characters. Roman Catholic priest and composer Marco Frisina calls upon the power of the orchestra and choir to tell the story of Saint Anthony of Padua (Sant’Antonio di Padova), moving from beautiful, sweeping thematic material to darker-tinged moments reflecting the challenges faced by Anthony. Jared DePasquale continues to impress (he won “Best Score – Other Media” at the 2015 Reel Music Awards) with another excellent score a radio dramatization of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. It’s a wonderfully melodic and thematic score that continues the tradition of this classic novel inspiring composers to write excellent music. Hendrik Schwarzer’s score for the Norse mythology-themed Wodan: Timbur Coaster – a wooden rollercoaster situated in a German amusement park – is a short but exciting orchestral score that uses both orchestra and voices to create drama and wonder in equal measure.
The five other scores that make up my Top 10 in this category are: Das Kalte Herz (2016, Oli Biehler) [KMV], Death Walks (2016, Tom Wolfe) [Tom Wolfe], Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact and Forgery (2015, Tom Howe) [Redrocca], No Man’s Zone (2012, Barre Phillips) [Cinénato / nato] and Of Sinners and Saints (2015, Franco Eco) [GBMUSIC]
NEW ARCHIVAL RELEASE (COMPILATION)
- THE FILM SCORES AND ORIGINAL ORCHESTRAL MUSIC OF GEORGE MARTIN (George Martin) Atlas Realisations
- Debbie Wiseman: Live at the Barbican (Debbie Wiseman) Silva Screen Records
- Hanns Eisler: Film Music (Hanns Eisler) Capriccio
- Saw Anthology (Charlie Clouser) Lakeshore Records
- Way to the Rebellion (George Shaw) MovieScore Media
It’s always exciting when you have the opportunity to listen to music written for films that, for whatever reason, isn’t used in the final version. A major draw to Atlas Realisation’s release of a compilation album of film score (Yellow Submarine, Live and Let Die) and orchestral (Three American Sketches, Prelude for Strings) compositions of George Martin (The Film Scores and Original Orchestral Music of George Martin) is a 15-minute suite of unused cues (choral and orchestral) from Roland Joffé’s 1986 movie, The Mission. Craig Leon conducts the Berlin Music Ensemble. As well as being an excellent summary of some of Martin’s work, the premier recording of the original sketches written for The Mission is an important addition to listeners of film music.
The Orchestra of the Guildhall School, under the baton of the composer herself, takes us through some of the many highlights of Debbie Wiseman’s film and television career (Debbie Wiseman: Live at the Barbican), and Johannes Kalitzke conducts the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin showcasing the film and orchestral music of the little-known Austrian composer, Hanns Eisler (Hanns Eisler: Film Music). The Hanns Eisler release including short suites from films such as Hangmen Also Die (1943) and 400 Millionen (1939). The fun Way to the Rebellion (George Shaw) presents music from a number of Star Wars-themed short films. The music taps into the emotion and energy heard in the music of John Williams’ Star Wars universe. Charlie Clouser’s music for the Saw franchise (2004-2017) finally receives a comprehensive treatment (Saw Anthology) with a selection of cues taken from the original soundtrack recordings and arranged into composer-selected suites covering all 8 movies (including the most recent installment, Jigsaw).