10th Anniversary Edition
Virgin Records (7243 5 9846125)
Year Released: 1994 / 2004
Conducted by Michael Nyman
|1.||To The Edge Of The Earth||4:06|
|2.||Big My Secret||2:51|
|3.||A Wild And Distant Shore||5:50|
|4.||The Heart Asks Pleasure First||1:33|
|5.||Here To There||1:02|
|7.||A Bed Of Ferns||0:46|
|9.||The Scent Of Love||4:16|
|10.||Deep Into The Forest||2:58|
|11.||The Mood That Passes Through You||1:13|
|12.||Lost And Found||2:24|
|16.||I Clipped Your Wing||4:34|
|18.||All Imperfect Things||4:03|
|19.||Dreams Of A Journey||5:30|
|20.||The Heart Asks Pleasure First / The Promise (Edit)||3:11|
|Total Album Time:||59:58|
|by Michael McLennan
on September 27th, 2004
Ten years after Jane Campion was proclaimed the new queen of art house film-making for The Piano with the coveted Palme D'Or and multiple Oscars, the appeal of the film continues to confound me. Set in a Victorian-era New Zealand, Ada (Holly Hunter) and her daughter (Anna Paquin) arrive from Scotland for the former's loveless arranged marriage to landowner Stewart (Sam Neill). A self-imposed mute, Ada's true voice is her piano playing. When circumstances put that piano in the hands of another landowner Baines (a horribly miscast Harvey Keitel), Ada engages him in an unusual contract – she will trade sexual favors for the keys of the piano until they are all hers again. Passion ensues along with jealousy and palmic dismemberment, but while it's all beautifully filmed and acted, you always feel you are watching an illustrated essay on sexual politics – a term that might aptly describe all of Campion's subsequent (and less acclaimed) work.
Ironically it's a film-maker whose work I don't particularly like who has inspired some of the best scores of the 1990s: Angelo Badalmenti's Holy Smoke, Wojciech Kilar's towering Portrait of a Lady (also Campion's best film) and The Piano by Michael Nyman. Films about fictional musicians have always proven fertile grounds for composers – John Corigliano's The Red Violin and Morricone's Canone Inverso being two recent standouts in genre – and the latter is no exception. Nyman's score has shown unprecedented popularity for an arthouse score. Having sold over three million copies since its appearance, it appears this year in a remastered issue for Nyman's 60th birthday.
What makes this score great is the repertoire of piano pieces Nyman composed for performance in the film, and these pieces are all the more impressive for articulating Ada's feelings. Seizing on Ada's Scottish nationality, Nyman adapted a lilting Scottish folk melody ("Bonny winter's noo awa") into a main theme for Ada that is both minimalist and breathlessly lyrical. On the album it first appears in a solo performance in "The Heart Asks Pleasure First", reprised later in a slower tempo with sublime harmonizing high strings in "The Promise". A tender romantic rhapsody appears for solo piano in "Big My Secret", later reprised in "The Scent of Love" where the strings take up the theme for a highlight of the album. While in the film version of these cues Holly Hunter played all solos in a style that is probably generously described as individualistic, Nyman pitches them perfectly on the album making for a much better listening experience. A jaunty piano theme – adapted from two folk songs ("Bonnie Jean" and "Flowers of the Forest") – is showcased in the less sublime "The Fling".
The style of Nyman's writing in the orchestral pieces will be familiar to anyone who knows Nyman's work - arpeggiated high strings hover above churning low strings and brass while piano or saxophones arc out minimalist motifs. Most of it is truly beautiful – "To the Edge of the Earth" feels like a dream. In a classic example of how Nyman uses saxophones like woodwinds, a soloist arcs out a beautiful melancholic motif in "Bed of Ferns" and "Lost and Found" that a less idiosyncratic composer would have written for an oboe. The aptly named "Mood that Passes through You" adds another theme for piano and orchestra, while the delicate "Embrace" focuses on the high strings.
And some of it is not so beautiful. For all the tracks which make this album worth it, there are a handful that nearly spoil the show. The main theme is dissected by low brass and saxophonists in "Here to There" in such a way as to sound clever but truly unlistenable coming between "The Heart Asks Pleasure First" and "The Promise". "Little Impulse" opens with a repeated phrase that truly outstays its welcome so that when the relieving violin solo comes towards the end of the track, the listener is more likely to have skipped the track. Then there's dreary trilogy of "I Clipped Your Wing", "The Wounded" and "All Imperfect Things". Each cue on their own sounds fine, but coming after the beautiful treatment of the main theme in "The Sacrifice" (where it varies temp until slowing to a halt), their directionless orchestral motifs feel redundant and would have been better left off altogether. This overloading of orchestra tracks cripples an album whose strength is in its piano writing, and more often than not, the listener will skip the penultimate tracks to get to the rapturous finale. "Dreams of a Journey" opens with a new motif for strings (actually a slowed-down fragment of "The Fling") before a triumphant reprise of his main theme for piano and full orchestra takes the cue to a peak, and a counterpointing of "The Fling" and the new motif bring the cue to a close.
The finale cue alone is a powerful argument for the Oscar nomination Nyman failed to receive that year. (In a sense he did win – since his music defined the main character's voice, Holly Hunter's Oscar win must in part be credited to Nyman.) It marked a turning point for Nyman's music, which became increasingly romantic while remaining unmistakably minimalist in the subsequent Gattaca, End of the Affair, Wonderland and The Claim scores. For those who have the original Virgin Records release or can easily obtain one of the three million used copies circling the globe (check the Amazon.com marketplace for a plethora of copies), the remastered reissue does not embarrass with its riches. Lovely as the main theme is, the extra track is a suite edited from two of the earlier tracks and contains no additional material, only serving to make an already-long-album longer. Neither does the remastered version impress with its improved sound – I'd hoped for greater emphasis on some of the parts of the mix (e.g. flutes) that are hard to make out in the old Virgin release, but there's no noticeable improvement here. It almost sounds exactly the same in the best tracks, and the only way to remind yourself it is a different release is to scan your eyes over the indecorous digipak it comes in. This is a very good score in general, and excellent in its solo piano parts, but the reissue is the emperor parading his new clothes.
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