Film Music Review
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Special Merit

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer






Music composed by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil
18 Tracks (Playing Time = 70:03)

Produced by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil. Performed by the Berlin Philharmoniker, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. State Choir Latvia, conducted by Kristian Jarvi. Soloists: Chen Reiss, soprano (tracks 2,3 9, 12); Melanie Mitrano, soprano (tracks 4, 10, 15); Victor De Maiziere, boy soprano (track 13). Electronics by Reinhold Heil (tracks 4, 10, 11, 13, 15). Liner Notes by Thomas Gilbert.
EMI Classics CD0946 3 79233 2 0

Rating: ****

This CD is the first soundtrack release on EMI Classics featuring the Berlin Philharmoniker, under Sir Simon Rattle's direction.

The film is based on Patrick Suskind's 1985 book, selling more than 15 million copies, and making it the best-selling novel of post-war German literature. The story takes place in 18th century France and tells of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), who is blessed with an extreme olfactory sense. He goes to work for the famous perfumer, Baldini (Dustin Hoffman). Eventually Grenouille becomes obsessed with creating the perfect perfume and in the process must kill several virgin girls to obtain it. This story was considered unfilmable by some, including the late director Stanley Kubrick. After much delay, due largely to the author's unwillingness to sell the film rights of his novel, it has been finally completed. The director is Tom Twyker, known for such popular films as RUN, LOLA, RUN and HEAVEN. The film title in German is DAS PARFUM - DIE GESCHICHTE EINES MORDERS. I have not seen the film yet, so this review will only concern the soundtrack CD.

Unlike Clint Eastwood, whose film scores have been lackluster and unimaginative, director Tom Tykwer and his co-musical contributors, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil, have fashioned a sumptuous and magnificent film score for PERFUME - THE STORY OF A MURDERER.
Before he even began the filming, Tykwer worked on the music first. He has said:
"I asked myself, how do we approach the olfactory substance in this film? How do we treat the fact that this film is all about the realm of scents and odours? I realised that, if at all, this could only be done through music. The parallels with music are also pointed out in the novel -- the whole alphabet of perfumery is taken from music theory, in the perfumery business you also speak of chords and single notes."

He also explained that another reason for the importance of music is, like perfume scents, music calls up memories and makes an impact on one's emotions. These comments may help to understand the care with which this score was put together.

The opening track, "Prologue - The Highest Point" (1:51) begins with a wordless chorus (National Choir of Latvia) singing the main theme and the orchestra slowly joins them. The next track, "Streets of Paris" (3:11), is more intense with a slow repeated thematic pattern and subtle harmonic changes, which reminded me a bit of James Horner's music in COCOON.

Besides the Berlin Philharmoniker and National Choir of Latvia, there are also tracks featuring electronics by Reinhold Heil, and various soloists.

For example, "Grenouille's Childhood" (track 4, 5:16), which has a combination of electronics sounding like a constant heartbeat, mixed with serenely sounding soprano Melanie Mitrano and the orchestra. It's a very effective track. Mitrano also sings beautifully on two other tracks. The other soprano soloist, Chen Reiss, is featured on more tracks (four in all), but her voice doesn't have the richness of Mitrano. For example, on track 3 ("The Girl with the Plums" - 5:27), Reiss is all but swallowed up in the orchestral vastness, though she still does justice to the lovely music heard on this track. Again there are hints of Horner on this track. Surely that's not intended. Nevertheless, the sound is quite beautiful.

There is much variety in this score and many fine cues.

One of the highlights is track 11 ("Grasse in Panic" - 5:34), which features strings swiftly moving along to accompany the cue title and building to a huge climax with chorus, reminiscent of both Jerry Goldsmith and J.S. Bach! Probably the most highly charged is track 13 ("Laura's Murder" - 3:06), with the contrast of low and high strings repeated, then joined by a boy soprano (Victor De Maiziere) singing in a very high range. The highly accented (stabbing?) strings reminded me a bit of Herrmann's PSYCHO taken at a much slower tempo, and the repeated strings and piano figures are reminiscent of Ennio Morricone. But that isn't meant to be a criticism. Instead it's a high compliment, since they are both masterful composers. And this track is very effectively done as well with its expanding on the basic repeated idea.

Another highlight is track 15 ( "The Perfume" - 5:32), with Melanie Mitrano lustrous singing mixed with the mystical sounds in the orchestra, implying the captivating perfume scents. It gradually grows in intensity until it reaches an almost unbearable emotional climax. A most impressive track!

The CD booklet notes by Thomas Gilbert are first rate (printed in English, German and French). He nicely summarizes the music when he writes: "this symphony-like soundtrack, which ranges from light, airy sounds to themes of majestic gravity, succeeds almost magically in making the world of odors tangible." Gilbert further explains: "The orchestra follows the film's dramatic storyline, evoking the historical atmosphere of the 18th century while remaining bound up in the sphere of olfactory stimuli."

Though the story takes place in the 18th century, the music is definitely modern sounding. I have mentioned touches of Goldsmith, Horner, Herrmann and Morricone. Yet PERFUME remains a highly original soundtrack, full of unusual magical sounds and very enjoyable to listen to without even having seen the film.

One might even say this PERFUME soundtrack is ideal... for making "scents" ( sorry for that pun!)
This music is excellently performed by the Berlin Philharmoniker under Sir Simon Rattle's expert direction. The National Choir of Latvia adds just the right amount of sound, without forcing their voices, and the soloists are very good.

I have only two complaints. First, the cover art on this CD release is unattractive and unappealing. The English and German release has a more attractive cover which better reflects the film's sensual score. My other complaint applies to most soundtrack albums. Why are the texts sung by the soloists not included in the booklet? This is usually done with classical music releases and EMI is such a record company, so it is disappointing they have not included the texts.
PERFUME is an superb soundtrack, especially for those listeners who want something that is both boldly intense and ravishingly beautiful.

This is a one of the best soundtrack releases of the year.

Highly recommended!

--Roger Hall, 5 December 2006

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