by Brian McVickar
Director David Cronenberg and composer Howard Shore continue their long-term collaboration in this year's Eastern Promises, which also features Viggo Mortenson, who starred in Cronenberg's recent critically acclaimed 2005 film, A History of Violence, in the lead role. One can never predict the subject matter Cronenberg will tackle in each film nor what styles and sounds will be required from Shore's music to fit these films, but assured direction, insight and uniqueness from them both is a guarantee from the start.
This time out the story reportedly encompasses organized crime families in the U.K., which includes Mortenson's dangerous character Nikolai, of Russian descent, and an innocent outsider, played by Naomi Watts, who inadvertently encounters evidence against this family. SoundtrackNet is excited to bring our listeners a sneak peek at the album, which is being released by Sony Classical on September 11, 2007, and features a melodic, melancholic score from Shore.
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1. Eastern Promises (5:04)
This first track immediately introduces the Eastern European setting and personal background for the film and its characters. The lonely and beautiful main theme, primarily descending figure, is played by solo violin (performed by Nicola Benedetti), supported by a slowing circling harp arpeggio, light hammered dulcimer and strings. The theme is soon picked up by woodwinds while the second half of the track features mid and low range strings, similar to portions of Shore's Looking For Richard. The solo violin continues to lead the group and is the "lead character" throughout, so that the music is primarily conveyed by its voice or by other voices speaking its same phrases, much as Yo-Yo Ma's cello in John Williams's Seven Years In Tibet.
2. Tatiana (5:11)
In this five minute track, the solo violin sketches out in a virtuosic display a lovely yet still melancholy new theme, set against lightly swaying strings, these becoming a recurring component of the score. This piece does much to characterize who this person is, before even seeing or hearing her, and is wonderful standalone work in its own right. Around the halfway mark, the tempo quickens a bit to something more nimble by way of pizzicato strings, as well as the dulcimer joining in again with tambourine, while the solo violin still has much to say. The track closes out with a brief restatement of the main "Eastern Promises" theme.
3. London Streets (1:56)
The rising, repeated harp arpeggio returns in this mysterious and measured track, mid-range strings paralleled by the heretofore absent brass section, opening up the score a bit more as the main theme is soon played by dulcimer and violin.
4. Sometimes Birth and Death Go Together (1:53)
In its opening bars I was almost reminded of Shore's eXistenz, but this fades into a contemplative clarinet revisiting bits of the main theme, but not following through to the finish, flanked by violin and dulcimer.
5. Trafalgar Hospital (1:33)
The mysterious and troubled main theme is showcased in full here, passed between solo violin and clarinet, still accompanied by harp and dulcimer.
6. Vory v Zakone (0:48)
This is a short track showcasing a new, brief 4-note motif for horns, which arcs upward in opposition to the downward trend of the primary theme, the sections grouped tightly together harmonically. Strings briefly mirror the horns as this leads directly into the following track…
7. Slavery and Suffering (2:00)
This track features a downtrodden male chorus, aided by dulcimer and mandolin, singing what could be an old Eastern European hymn, along the lines of what Patrick Doyle composed for male chorus in 1999's East-West.
8. Nikolai (1:19)
This main theme is briefly recapped here once more by violin, backed by what could be called its ever-present family for this score of harp, strings and clarinet, though carrying a more defeated tone.
9. Kirill (2:09)
The track opens on an ominous tone by way of the motif heard in "Vory v Zakone", again on heavy brass coupled with low strings and woodwinds before all is stripped down to the solo violin before rebuilding up again to a reflective clarinet line and strings.
10. Anna Khitrova (3:25)
Here the mood lightens and the pace steps up thanks to pizzicato strings, not to energetic proportions, but more of a playful dance, before the tone soon downshifts once more to the reflective, swaying figures and clarinet and violin duo.
11. Eagle and Star (1:25)
A short track featuring the main theme but this time in the high range of what sounds like an English horn, but I could be mistaken, followed again by the swaying patterns on strings beneath clarinet, mandolin and dulcimer.
12. Nine Elms (6:15)
This is the lengthiest track on the album, opening with rising, tense strings, coupled with low brass, heralding a change. The solo violin is joined by more pronounced harp and low strings, the latter presenting the main theme in shorter fragments. They all pause for an unadorned solo by the violin before the track continues into variations on the rising, repeating figure normally heard on harp. The strings still set the motion, which almost start to feel akin to a boat lost on an indifferent yet calm sea.
13. Like a Place in the Bible (1:22)
The penultimate track lays down a pedal drone to start as dulcimer has a brief phrase of its own, then strings and clarinet again essay a sorrowful state.
14. Trans-Siberian Diary (2:24)
The solo violin returns to the main theme, back in a higher register, the string ostinato somewhat more engaged in its support while suddenly the horns intercede in a decidedly forceful form, all soon wrapped up by the violin, resolute yet burdened, and with minimal support.
Howard Shore's scores for Cronenberg tend to envelop the films for which they were written, providing a distinct, consistent and tactile atmosphere instead of just commenting and accentuating specific onscreen actions. The atmosphere could be pervasive dread, paranoia or regret, but the instrumental colors and often opaque themes carry the purposeful feeling throughout the film, truly helping to immerse the audience in its world.
This may be a short album but it allows it to function as a complete piece, drawing the listener in from track to track, following the journey to its close, as opposed to a collection of cues that can be advanced through randomly. And another notable aspect of this release is that there will be a bonus score track available exclusively through iTunes, so be aware if you plan on wanting more Howard Shore.
Special thanks to Jeremy Meyers at Sony BMG and Dan Goldwasser.