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CD Reviews Two Brothers and Sound Theater

Two Brothers *** 1/2


Decca B0002556-02

19 tracks - 59:32

It should be a prerequisite for film composers to work on at least one nature film. This genre (and all those films to which it loosely relates) usually cries out for full, lush orchestral scoring. So even if certain composers are used to more minimalist, atonal or more synthesizer-based styles, they should be forced to do a National Geographic-type special just to remind them about the grandeur of the art of movie-making and the important role film music is to the emotional core of a movie. The romantic style may be a cliché, but some of the most memorable music has been composed for these movies: John Barry's Born Free, Mark Isham's A River Runs Through It," Elmer Bernstein's National Geographic Presents, Jerry Goldsmith's "Soarin'," Thomas Newman's The Horse Whisperer and Hans Zimmer's The Lion King. Oscar-winning composer Stephen Warbeck gets a crack at the genre with Two Brothers, and the result is his most musically rich score.

Director Jean-Jacques Annaud has traveled down this road before; The Bear had virtually no dialogue. This time Annaud has upped the ante with more speaking, a 1920s setting, and the splitting of the film's focus between two brother tigers, raised apart after one is kidnapped. Whatever criticism you may have for the picture (simplistic plot, scenes of animal cruelty being too much for little children), none should be directed towards Warbeck's wonderful score.

From the first cue on the CD, the gentle "The Two Brothers," to the emotional final "Goodbye," Warbeck takes us on a musical journey peppered with huge orchestral sweep, quiet Asian interludes and memorable melodies. I especially like the beautiful "Recognition," as well as "Chasing the Truck," which is as intense as anything I've ever heard Warbeck write. And if your eyes don't tear up just a little during "Return to the River," you may want to check with a cardiologist about the state of your heart.

This score has a life of its own on CD, and you'll likely enjoy it without having to see the movie. It has a nice flow, with only an opera cue and a jarring whistling cue out of place but easily edited out for your listening pleasure. It's nice to savor such an ambitious score by Warbeck, since his next major assignment is the small family drama, Proof.     -- Cary Wong

Sound Theater *** 1/2


Ark Enterprise Co. AGCS-5001/02

35 tracks - 2:16:19

Masaru Sato's name may not be well known to Western audiences, but his music has appeared in several famous Japanese films, including The Bad Sleep Well, Sanjuro and Throne of Blood. A prolific composer, he worked on over 300 pictures before his death in 1999, and this retrospective two-disc collection features some of the best material from his lengthy career.

Long associated with Toho, the island nation's largest studio, Sato specialized in writing for genre pictures. His first big assignment came in 1955, when he was hired to score Gigantis the Fire Monster, the second film in the Godzilla series. Featured as the album's lead track, the theme from this radioactive monster movie is a showcase for timpani: set amidst an onslaught of brass flourishes, the drums thump along menacingly, simulating the footsteps of Godzilla and his friends. Several tracks from Sato's action movie scores show up as well. The catchiest of them may be his theme for Yojimbo, a samurai film directed by Akira Kurosawa. In it, the composer establishes a spare, two-beat rhythm with a snare drum, which he then adorns with soft strings and hard horns, creating a relentless pattern that is simultaneously simple and schizophrenic. "When the Sun Rises in the Sky," a waltzing march from Band Of Assassins, in contrast, produces a rich and sentimental sound by balancing the soaring french horn with the tartness of the trumpet.

The CD's second disc, a compendium of musical obscurities, opens with a pair of songs that feature an unnamed female singer, whose voice sounds like its been damaged by too much whiskey -- or sake. Self-consciously traditional, these compositions embrace the syncopated, staccato sound that many of us have heard pouring out of the ceiling speakers in Japanese restaurants. The other pieces, however, betray Sato's affection for Western music, both serious and popular. Recorded live at the 1988 Itami Film Festival, these tracks include an interpretation of Ravel's Bolero, for example, and a "dance" version of "When the Sun Rises in the Sky," which echoes with the influence of American soul and Europop.

Comprehensive, but hardly exhaustive, Sound Theater works well as an introduction to this interesting and unfortunately overlooked composer's work. Still, it would be nice to have complete versions of his scores, rather than just the samples that we find here. Let's hope that Ark, or some other label, gets around to releasing these charismatic soundtracks soon.     -- Stephen B. Armstrong

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