Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Quick Reviews: The Conspirator / Water for Elephants

The Conspirator
Music composed by Mark Isham
Cello Solos by Zöe Keating
Orchestrated by Brad Dechter and Peter Boyer
Performed by The Czech National Orchestra
Available on MIM Records

Mark Isham again collaborates with director Robert Redford for The Conspirator.  The past films together were A River Runs Through It (1992), Quiz Show (1994), Lions for Lambs (2007).  Isham received his only Oscar nomination for A River Runs Through it.  While the scores are not entirely memorable outside of the films, they fit the mood for each nicely.  The same goes with The Conspirator.

Using mainly strings, Isham underscores what is basically a legal drama.  Of course the catch is that the case is about alleged assassins of Abraham Lincoln in 1865.  The music never gets too much in the way of the film, but is pretty much present throughout.  The brooding score features mostly lower strings and includes cello solos by Zöe Keating.  There are a few cues that involve a solo violin, almost purposely not fitting into the score.  Not all cues are dark; there are several tension-filled cues using percussion and brass to move the pulse along.  With his themes, you feel just as bad for Mary Surratt as you feel for Lincoln. 
Isham’s own label MIM Records put out 3 different versions of the score, thankfully since the score probably wouldn’t be put out on a major label otherwise.  Between them all, the albums include all the music written for the film.  Since the music is so dramatic, it might not be the best listening experience, but the themes work well, and the music is great even being so somber.  The music for the end of the film was especially poignant and really fit with Robin Wright's performance as Lincoln conspirator Mary Surratt.
Tracks to hear:
A Genuine War Hero
One Bullet, But Not One Man
End Credits 

Water for Elephants
Music composed by James Newton Howard
Orchestrated by: Pete Anthony, Conrad Pope, Jeff Atmajian, John Kull
Album time: 56 minutes
Available on Sony Classical

James Newton Howard is one of the best composers in film music today, and his style is always changing - giving each film a sound of its own.  Water for Elephants is directed by Francis Lawrence, who also directed I Am Legend, another solid Howard score.  This album is a nice collection of Howard's music and the 1920s era period songs, some original recordings and some arranged for the album.  These don't distract from most score albums like many recordings tend to do.  (The period songs are found in Track 5, 9, 12 and 16.)

This score has a great romantic sound to it, especially near the end of the score.  It has some tender and serious moments, and even a bit of circus music.  Many of Howard’s scores feature many solo moments, Water for Elephants features many clarinet and piano parts.  The solos hanging over soft strings, is one of my favorite effects and it works perfectly in this score.  The score overall, reminded me of The Water Horse (also by Howard) and Curious Case of Benjamin Button (by Alexandre Desplat).  Echoes of Desplat’s romantic and light sound go through the score.  Howard’s usual team of orchestrators may be the ones that made it feel this way. 
Like many Howard scores, the last track is the longest cue on the album and a great ending to the album.  I really enjoyed the last track, The Stampede/I’m Coming Home, as well as The Circus Sets Up.  While this might not be Howard’s best effort considering is prolific film career, this is a great score to listen to and a highlight so far this year.

Tracks to hear:
The Circus Sets Up
Circus Fantasy
The Stampede/I'm Coming Home

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