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Film Music Review (Volumes 1-7)





Editor's Choice -
Best of the Month for January

MUNICH (2005)

Music composed and conducted by John Williams.

18 Tracks (Playing Time = 62:46)

Album produced by John Williams. Music Editors: Ken Wannberg and Ramiro Belgardt. Music recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Album mastered by Pat Sullivan at Bernie Grundman Mastering, Hollywood, California. Art direction by David Novik. Design by Frank Famularo. Vocal solos by Lisbeth Scott. Piano soloist: Gloria Cheng. Cello soloist: Steve Erdody. Oboe soloist: John Ellis. Guitar soloist (track 10): Adam Del Monte.

Decca B0006093-02

Rating: ****

It is quite amazing that this score is the fourth major score for John Williams in 2005. While I don't believe that these Williams scores--the previous three are STAR WARS III: REVENGE OF THE SITH, WAR OF THE WORLDS, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA--are equally brilliant, this latest one is surely near the top of the foursome.

MUNICH is the darkest of the four film scores by Williams in 2005. WAR OF THE WORLDS was also a dark score, but for a much different type of Steven Spielberg film. The score for MUNICH is much more emotionally intense. It is overflowing with poignant music, especially in the richness of the string writing and the mournful singing of Lisbeth Scott.

This can be heard on the opening track, "Munich 1972" (2:37). But it's even more apparent in the more extended and incredibly moving "Remembering Munich" (track 4, 4:38). This is music of intense suffering and sacrifice. Another similar cue expressing this sentiment (but without the vocal) is the one mentioned by the film's director Steven Spielberg: "A Prayer for Peace" (track 6, 3:51), when he writes: "For me, the quintessential movement of John's score...embraces the history of this tragedy while deeply honoring the memory of the members of the Israeli team who were murdered on September 6, 1972."

Though for some, this score will remind them of SCHINDLER'S LIST. While that is true, the MUNICH film score (at least the lush string writing) reminded me of a long ago Williams score for BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, which I selected for a Sammy Award back in 1989. Both scores have a dark emotional base, expressing pain from a bitter struggle.

As so often happens with a John Williams film score, there isn't any cue in MUNICH that doesn't belong there. The recorded sound is top drawer. For example, listen to the crispness of "Avner's Theme" (track 10, 3:07), a beautifully played guitar solo that is skillfully recorded and edited.

Nothing more need be said except...

This is another superb and brilliantly composed Williams soundtrack.

Highest recommendation for this intensely moving MUNICH soundtrack.

--Roger Hall, 28 January 2006

Another review...

If John Williams had stopped with his score for MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, 2005 would still have been an amazing year for him. Steven Spielberg’s liner note for this score even mention each of the scores Williams composed last year commenting on the fact that each could not have been further from the other. Unlike MEMOIRS, which Williams had actually requested to score and for which he had a longer schedule, MUNICH was written closer to the way things used to be done in Hollywood. The first rough cut was available to the composer sometime in October/November and he had a matter of weeks, most likely days, to put together a score that would help support this political story about the events in Munich, 1972.

Lisbeth Scott , who has been a regular vocalist on many recent scores, appears here from the outset of the first track. From her vocalization, with just a tinge of string background, to a bizarre percussion (electronic?) track and very atonal piano writing, Williams goes into territory he has not explored much in film. Here he takes the Media Ventures sound and makes it his own reminding everyone that he has the tools to make anything sound better than any other composer out there. The fact that it all seems so effortless is just one facet of this score that makes for amazing listening. The melodic lines are a cross between Bartok and Berg and the Arabic sounding music flows in and out of those textures. Ethnic instruments are added to the mix blended with Scott’s voice in a way that sounds both familiar and entirely new. And one hears all of this even before track three! Unlike the many wordless Arabic vocals that appear in the oddest places in many Hollywood scores, Williams takes this idea and fully integrates this sound into the writing using it as a plaintive cry. Scott thus communicates the unbelievably deep feelings and emotion of the screen images through her interpretation. The music takes on a depth even more starkly felt than the violin solos from SCHINDLER’S LIST. This is a deeply moving and effective score.

The highly romantic and fully orchestrated sound that many expect from the composer appears as well. Most engagingly in the gorgeously orchestrated “Hatikvah” whose Jewish melody and the track’s orchestration are somewhat reminiscent of SCHINDLER’s LIST, but as with many of Williams’ recent scores there is a fuller and warmer sound. “Prayer for Peace” is the elegiac string standout here that recalls “Remembrances” from SCHINDLER’S LIST. It even includes a cello and violin duet. Here is another piece that will no doubt find its way into many concert programs. Steve Erdody’s solo cello performances throughout the score are equally notable. “Avner’s Theme” is the other standout track, written for guitar solo and exquisitely performed by Adam Del Monte. Coming at the halfway point of the disc, it makes for an amazing contrast to all that has come before and all which follows. It is a chance for the listener to take a mental break from the stark musical contrasts and be reminded of the human story that is playing out musically.

The emotional depth of this piece in particular seems to transcend the film even as it appears here on this CD. The cries and emotional depth of the score run parallel to some of William’s more patriotic concert music. This is the darker, sadder side of life. The ugly side where horrible things happen that cannot be explained so easily. It is patriotism gone sour. In “Letter Bombs,” there is a hint of Glass-ian minimalism that one heard in its darker shade in MINORITY REPORT. But the way it is scored allows for the darker colors to cut through with a different energy and power. The string writing is a combination of NIXON with SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET and some of the more unusual atonal writing is reminiscent of Williams’ dramatic scoring in the 1970s. The more contemporary orchestral tracks are distributed throughout the disc which aids in making the listening experience as enjoyable as they would be had they been in film order. Though putting them in film order will likely intensify the score more. As with several of Williams albums, a summary end credits track, performed here with prominent piano solo by Gloria Chang, makes for a satisfying musical conclusion.

MUNICH slipped quietly into theaters, and its score did the same in music stores. Casual Williams fans will run across it and find in it yet another masterpiece of music. It is uncanny how many instrumental solo sections there are in this score that make sense musically and dramatically in ways one often does not hear. The way Williams uses these individual solos to communicate so much is a mark of his artistic restraint and consummate musicianship. The collaborations between this director and composer continue to create the finest film music of the past 30 years. We can only hope there are at least a few more projects left.

Rating: ****

--Steven A. Kennedy , 30 January 2006

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