Film Music Review
The Sammy awards






  Special Merit 


Music composed by James Newton Howard

20 tracks (Playing Time = 58:45)


Score Produced by James Newton Howard and Jim Weldman. Score Recorded by Geoff Foster. Additional Recording by James T. Hill. Score Mixed by Simon Rhodes. Supervising Music Editor: Jim Weldman. Music Editor: David Olsen. Assistant Music Editor: Nigel Scott. Orchestrators: Jeff Atmajian Brad Dechter, Pete Anthony, Jon Kull, Chris P. Bacon, Julia Newman and Patrick Russ. Orchestra and Metro Voices Conducted by Pete Anthony. Score Recorded and Mixed at Abbey Road Studios, London, UK.

Sony Classical 88697-19300-2

Rating: ****


James Newton Howard continues to demonstrate his vital versatility in film scoring.

Last year he was named Top Composer of the Year for his scores to BLOOD DIAMOND and LADY IN THE WATER. Over the years he has continued to produce memorable scores. In 2004, his score for THE VILLAGE was chosen for a Sammy Award as Best Score of the Year.

For THE WATER HORSE James Newton Howard has painted with a Celtic musical brush mixed with the colors from a rich orchestral palette. And what he has created is a lovely musical landscape.

The first track (4:29) has a decent song, "Back Where You Belong," written and performed by Irish pop star, Sinead O'Connor. Her singing is in the typically mumbled manner of today's pop stars. It was difficult for me to understand all her lyrics. Why can't record labels include the lyrics in their CD foldout flyer?

After the song, the next track has the brief Main Title (1:09) featuring ethnic instruments like the Irish fiddle (played by Dermot Crehan) and the soaring "Gaita Recorder" beautifully performed by Carlos Nunez. Along with these instruments the orchestra plays the soothing theme moving slowly like the waves of the water and that continues into the next track, "Angus Feeds Crusoe" (1:59).

The action pick ups more momentum with "Angus in Training" (track 11, 2:52) with a constant ticking sound underneath in the strings and then it breaks forth with an exuberant explosion with the folk instruments joining in.

This momentum is continued with the following track, "Swimming" (6:34), with orchestral outbursts coming in like thunder and lightning in a storm, and also a brief wordless vocal by Sinead O'Connor. This cue becomes more and more animated until it reaches a strong rhythmic intensity and leads to a huge climax with choral accompaniment by the wordless Metro Voices, and prominent use of brass and percussion.

A similar example are two dynamic cues, "Saving Crusoe" (track 16, 2:04), and "The Net" (track 17, 4:22), with a driving rhythmic theme using the full orchestral forces that moves rapidly along to accompany the action. These cues are the climax of the action and they are the highpoints of the score as well in terms of dynamic intensity.

It all quiets down for "End of the Story" (track 19, 3:04), a dreamy cue which features the return of Sinead O'Connor's vocal and folk instruments. It provides a lovely finish to the story. But wait --there's still more...

The final track is titled: "The Water Horse Suite" (track 20, 8:08) and is performed by the popular Irish group, The Chieftains. It opens with a single delicate Irish harp and then Irish fiddle enters and there is a duet. Then other instruments join in, such as Paddy Moloney on Uilleann Pipes/ Tin Whistle, Kevin Conneff (Bodhran), Matt Molloy (Flute), and Ray Cooper (Additional Percussion). Unlike many of today's soundtracks that end with a fizzle, this most enjoyable suite is a great way to end the CD.

The recorded sound on this soundtrack is excellent. In the foldout flyer are some complimentary comments about the musicians by the film's director, Jay Russell. He describes James Newton Howard's score as "a beautiful Celtic Symphony which delivers the complexity of Gustav Mahler with the simple grandeur of Aaron Copland." I'm don't think that's a fair comparison but at least it was meant to be as a thankful tribute to Howard's fine score.

This soundtrack to THE WATER HORSE is a total delight and is one of the best soundtracks of the year.

It is full of beautiful moving musical moments and deserves the Special Merit designation.

If you are a fan of superior film music, I recommend this soundtrack most highly.

-- Roger L. Hall, 22 December 2007

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