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Film Music Review (Volumes 1-7)





Editor's Choice -
Best of the Month for May


14 Tracks (Total Time: 68:12)

Music composed, arranged, and produced by Hans Zimmer.

Score arranged by Lorne Balfe, Nick Glennie-Smith, and Henry Jackman. Latin lyrics and choir arrangements by Graham Preskett. Orchestra conducted by Richard Harvey. Choir conducted by Nick Glennie-Smith. Ambient music design by Mel Wesson. “Kyrie for the Magdalene” words and music by Richard Harvey. “Salvetes Virgines” music by Hans Zimmer, words by Abhay Manusmare. Music recorded by Geoff Foster. Music mixed by Al Clay. Album mixed by Alan Meyerson. Music recorded and mixed at Air Studios, Lyndhurst Hall, London. Mastered by Louie Teran at Marcussen Mastering, Hollywood, CA. Creative direction by Pat Barry. Design by Frank Famularo.

Decca B0006479-02

Rating: ****

Editor's Comment: The only complaint I have is that no Latin texts are included in the CD booklet and instead we get the usual sampling of unecessary film stills. Nevertheless, this is a masterful score by Hans Zimmer and kudos need to be given also to the team of arrangers (Lorne Balfe, Nick Glennie-Smith and Henry Jackman). This is Zimmer's best score in years. The soloists and choir are also excellent. And so I'm pleased to name this soundtrack CD as Best of the Month for May.
-- Roger L. Hall


Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, THE DA VINCI CODE, finally arrives in theaters in May. The Crichton-ish tale with religious undertones has received its fair share of detractors who forget that this is fiction after all. Ron Howard helms a stellar international cast for this production starring Tom Hanks as Professor Langdon. Howard has been moving through a variety of composers for each of his films and here reunites with Hans Zimmer for the first time since BACKDRAFT (1991).

“Dies Mercurii I Martius” is an impressive opening track with a pseudo-ambient orchestral backdrop where a couple of motives appear briefly followed by the appearance of a lyric piano theme. Two minutes in and we are in firm Zimmer territory. The long thematic lines begin to slowly gain force as the lower strings roll on in a rhythmic ostinato pattern. This is only a small part of the cue though as soon an orchestral scream, that is reminiscent of Goldenthal, appears. (In fact, the titles remind one Goldenthal.) The music has a depth emotionally often missing from Zimmer’s lesser works but here it is something to really sit back and revel in as the music plays along. An interesting feature of the score is the way electronics and choral sounds are placed into the fabric of the music. There are moments when a choral cluster is subtly layered into the music and a flash of light will appear in a wordless soprano chorus. Latin texts begin to insert themselves into those parts as the score moves along and it is all quite fascinating to hear.

The group Fretwork appears to provide a different sound to some of the score as well. In “The Paschal Spiral” one hears the sound of these ancient viols alongside overly dramatic full orchestral sound. It is an amazing mixture of ancient and modern that also becomes blended as the score progresses. Thematic ideas are often used to create a sense of awe and illumination in the midst of some of the darker passages quite effectively. Impressive throughout the score are the choices in orchestration and various assignments of solo thematic lines. There is really not a misstep in the bunch. If this is the direction Zimmer’s music continues to take his detractors will certainly be fewer.

THE DA VINCI CODE may be that score where the transition into a more “mature” period begins. Listening carefully, one can detect musical gestures becoming important motivic ideas and in some cases these grow into actual thematic lines—a musical transformation that will no doubt gain power when connected to the storyline and reflected upon on repeated listening. The return of the piano idea in “Rose of Arimathea” is especially striking as it moves through one instrumental sound, a viol, to a choral text presentation.

One thing that Zimmer is adept at is presenting his music on disc with real shape to the individual cues. Later tracks segue into one another smoothly. Some of the earlier ones are likely pieced together from smaller musical cues, but appear seamless here. Decca’s sound for this production is stellar. Listen to “Fructus Gravis” as it builds and you can even here the piano line supporting the ostinato string idea. The clarity of the choral writing is really wonderful as is the gorgeous, pure sound of soprano Hila Plitman. It can be heard to amazing effect in “Poisoned Chalice.” The sound is overall warmer than one often hears in film scores and that is a real plus.

The disc concludes with a beautiful choral piece by Richard Harvey, “Kyrie for the Magdalene.” The piece is cast in a Barber-ish sound that provides an unexpected highlight to the disc even though one suspects it could be fleshed out more into a truly inspiring concert piece. It is similar to some of the work Harvey provided for LUTHER (2003), itself an equally fine score.

It is possible that in the future, this score will be looked upon as one of Zimmer’s finest achievements easily eclipsing GLADIATOR and the THIN RED LINE. Ron Howard comments about his nervousness on arriving to the studio for the first day of recording in his liner comments. Though his composers seem to have come through with scores often better than their films, this time out he has received a score that is among the best composed for his films.

Not since A BEAUTIFUL MIND has a composer delivered a score that sounds amazing on disc. We will all have to wait and see how it works in the film but in the meantime, this is one of the first great scores of the year.

--Steven A. Kennedy, 2 May, 2006

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