Promotional Release (CTNCD-001)
Release Date: 2006
Conducted by Christopher Tyler Nickel
The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus
|3.||The Shores of My Homeland||6:57|
|4.||Then There Was You||7:46|
|5.||The Wind's Last Breath||5:44|
|6.||A Timeless Love||6:00|
|7.||One Moment Under the Stars||4:51|
|Total Album Time:||53:26|
|by Jonathan Jarry
February 15, 2007
I am reminded of the 2001 David Manning scandal where Sony was exposed as having "invented" a fake movie critic who showered praises on such stinkers as Hollow Man (debatable) and The Animal (not so debatable). Anyone's a critic in the electronic age. It is very easy for John Q to read eulogistic comments like "rivaling most big budget Hollywood motion pictures", "empowering and truly inspiring", and "When is Horizons Part 2 coming? The world deserves it" and be given the gift of instant opinion. All I can say is that I have no ties to the composer, Christopher Tyler Nickel, and that my opinion isn't colored by the sweet tints of friendships and professional relationships. Horizons is frustrating because it achieves two polarizing things at once: it is beautiful yet entirely derivative. There is not a single original chord progression or theme here, but Nickel is obviously talented. I was unable to reconcile these two facets, making this album one that will be liked by some people (probably the neophytes) and hated by other people (probably the veterans).
Horizons is not a film score, but certainly sounds like a film score, and I'm sure that was the idea. Nickel set up a recording date with the City of Prague Philharmonic and Chorus, a high profile ensemble, meaning one expects a high profile type of music. Indeed, Nickel's compositions aim their melodic and harmonic arrows high, as high and epic as one can go without sounding trite (and, sometimes, even higher than that). The orchestra is almost always comforting, with soft chordal beds for the strings and melodic hooks for the woodwinds. It is unabashedly romantic in a "and they embraced in a wheat field with the camera panning up" sort of way. "A Timeless Love" is a fine example of this. When the brass kicks in, you can almost hear the theater usher passing the tissues around. Yet, Nickel does it exceptionally well: he knows his way around a staff and can orchestrate like the best of them. If Horizons were a proficiency exam, Nickel would pass with flying colors.
The problem lies in Horizons' lack of originality. One can hear James Horner's early career painted all over the opening track, "Horizons"; John Williams' Jurassic Park Theme literally lifted and stuck over "The Promise"; and the early Zimmer splashed over "Dream". The harmonies, while beautiful, are tired; the orchestrations, while respectful of the basic rules, are traditional and a long shot from innovative. And this keeps bugging me: Horizons is a compilation of film-score-like pieces (Nickel says that the themes are based on some of the film scores he's done), recorded on, I'm assuming, his own time and dime. Even the best film composers get their back broken by the weight of temp track love but, away from it, in a concert hall situation, they can fly free and be as inventive as they want. A classical music dévoté is more keen on experimentations than a conservative movie-goer. One cannot deny Nickel is one talented composer. But a composer with apparently no unique voice can hardly be admired.
I can already hear the angry email landing in my mailbox, but I am unfortunately not in the business of cutting slack. There are quite a few promising newcomers in the field of film music. Mikael Carlsson is doing an admirable job plucking them out of obscurity with his Movie Score Media label. I have already been introduced to the distinct voices of Scott Glasgow, Ryan Shore, and Jeff Grace, to name only the latest. Christopher Tyler Nickel would do well to return to his studio and work on crafting for himself a unique style. He has the talent for it: Horizons proves it. He can muster an orchestra like a lot of B-list composers actively working in Hollywood right now. However, pillaging A-listers' early careers won't get him very far.
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