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CD Reviews: Bad Education and The Unsaid

La Mala Educación (Bad Education) ****


Sony SK 93551

26 tracks - 59:20

In his latest film, Pedro Almodóvar explores the taboo subject of sexual abuse of young boys by priests. Almodóvar is one of the few directors who invites you into the worlds of bizarre people who end up being transformed in unique ways. The director makes you uncomfortable, but has such a visual flair that you are drawn in to his characters. His composers have the difficult job of trying to soften or bridge the gap between his vision and the viewer.

Alberto Iglesias has been Almodóvar's composer of choice for his last five films. The opening titles of Bad Education (21 score tracks - 46:07) have Iglesias recreating the sound of Herrmann from North By Northwest mixed in with a little Psycho. There's more interesting material in one minute of this piece than one often finds in an entire score. The string writing in "Cine Olimpo" may remind you of Franz Waxman, before it moves into a soaring melody that's pure Iglesias. He has a way of writing wonderfully compact melodic ideas filled with an intensity unequaled by many of his contemporaries. "Noche Oscura" is another example of a small amount of material being stretched into something emotionally tense. This building and release of tension is trademark Iglesias and here it again takes on more of a Herrmann-esque quality.

There are several sources pieces appearing in the film that also make the disc. One is the 1963 recording of "Quizás, Quizás, Quizás" by Sara Montiel that has to be one of the most sultry recordings this famous little Fares song has ever had. She is also heard in another song recorded that year, "Maniquí Parisien." A gorgeous newly-recorded performance of a Rossini "Kyrie" gives a little contextual music and it does not feel at all out of place in its positioning on the disc. Also appearing is a little 1967 pop rock number, "Cuore Matto," sung by Little Tony. Finally, there's an unusually poignant performance of Mancini's "Moon River" (in Spanish) with a young boy, Pedro Martínez, singing with guitar accompaniment.

Iglesias was nominated at 2004's World Soundtrack Awards for the "Soundtrack Composer of the Year," and his score was nominated in the Best Composer category. There is a lot to admire on this album, and if you are attracted to noir-ish film music this is worth your attention.     -- Steven A. Kennedy

The Unsaid ****


Prometheus PCD-156

19 tracks - 53:33

For fans of Davis' seminal Matrix scores, the music for this 2003 Andy Garcia thriller will be a bit of a surprise, and a pleasant one at that. Unlike the muscular action writing found in the aforementioned trilogy, or the eerie avant garde textures contained in the composer's horror fare, The Unsaid is a dramatic, emotive score.

"Main Title" introduces the prominent thematic material that Davis will vary throughout the course of this beautiful work. The melody brings to mind the folk harmonies found in much of Thomas Newman's scores. But make no mistake; this is not second-generation film music. Davis has his own compositional technique and this comes through in the score. Much of the music centers on piano and string orchestra, the latter playing sordino in the opening tracks, lending a soft, ethereal tone.

Standout tracks include "The Opening," with its plaintive oboe presentation of the main theme, and "Kyle Denial" containing expansive block string/piano chords, a technique found in 20th century Polish composers' works such as those of Kilar and Gorecki.

Speaking of which, "Tommy Turbulance" and "Harry's Little Secret" do have some unsettling string parts that suggesting that all is not well in this story. The latter of the two contains effective lower string writing that recalls Ennio Morricone's classic The Thing. This serves as a nice contrast to the abundant lyricism on a majority of the tracks.

There is one minor issue I have with the score. "Kyle's Little Secret" sounds as though the director fell in love with The Shawshank Redemption. A foreboding four-note alternating motif in the bass/celli accompanied by a bi-tonal violin/piano line gets a little too close for comfort. While this motif does show up in other tracks on the disc, it is presented in a way that is fortunately much less evocative of Newman's theme. And knowing that most composers have to deal with the "temp score" hurtle, it doesn't completely mar the overall enjoyment and originality of Davis' work.

I always find that the best film scores are the ones that have their own narrative logic, such that they invite the listener into the world they've been written to accompany. To Davis' credit, his score summons up enough images that one who hasn't seen the film can still appreciate the dramatic arc of the music on this soundtrack. By the time the listener gets to "Tommy and Mommy," Davis has built things to a fever pitch with a thunderous variation of the main theme that shows off the composer's orchestration prowess.

The soundtrack presentation by Prometheus is first rate. Great sound, an excellent performance by the Utah Symphony Orchestra, generous running time, and most of all, an opportunity to hear Davis' full compositional range.     -- David Coscina

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