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GRAND PIANO is a wonderfully taught and deliciously suspense filled drama. It stars Elijah Wood, John Cusack, Dee Wallace and Alex Winter. Who all perform outstandingly under the directorship of Eugenio Mira. The filmmaker has put together this vexing and urgent piece of cinema which is a superb thriller that is centred around just one performance that could be a matter of life and death.  GRAND PIANO follows Tom Selznick(wood) who is a gifted pianist and one who is returning to the stage after an absence of five years, this was brought about by him giving a disastrous rendition of LA CINQUETTE which is also referred to as the unplayable piece. As you can imagine Selznick is nervous about his return but this is further impacted upon when he finds out he is to play the same piano that he performed on stage last. Plus he is given more pressure when he opens his score book to find written in large red letters PLAY ONE WRONG NOTE AND YOU DIE, (obviously Simon Cowell on a good day), So gripping and exciting stuff. The music is by Spanish born composer Victor Reyes, of course this Maestro has along with many of his fellow countryman who work as film composers had a steady and some what heady rise to prominence in the past five years or so and I for one am of the opinion that we have Spanish film music composers to thank for the re-emergence of the fully symphonic soundtrack in recent years. Ok I know John Williams and also John Barry and Jerry Goldsmith were probably the main composers to bring back into play the fully orchestral film score, Williams in-particular evoking the music of the golden age of cinema with his rip roaring scores for STAR WARS etc. But film music from Spain has you have to admit been of the highest quality and at times has certainly outstripped and outshone scores from Hollywood in more recent times,  so much so that Hollywood turned to Spanish composers to score big budget movies, introducing film music collectors to a whole new legion of composers.  GRAND PIANO contains a classical sounding score, which given the films subject matter should not come as a surprise. Reyes music is glorious and opulent and at times evokes memories of THE LEGEND OF THE GLASS MOUNTAIN and even THE WARSAW CONCERTO, but it is more than just a piano concerto, in fact the music works on a number of levels, firstly it is the music being performed in concert and is richly decadent and wonderfully entertaining and inspiring, filled with passion and emotion. Secondly it works as a film score, it supports the action on screen and combined with some clever camera shots and split second editing it is able to create such a tense and also at times urgent atmosphere. Then it entertains as just music, away from the images and totally away from the movie, after all it is a concerto and successfully works as a stand alone piece of music, the composer has managed to relay moods that are filled with romance and written dramatic and also unsettling themes in abundance that ooze a nervous tension and also have about them a sense of desperation and frustration.

The composer supports the central instrument (piano) with wonderfully lush and lavish sounding strings that are romantically led but also have an underlying sense of the macabre or dangerous, these emotions are further added to by the support of percussion and also brass that punctuate and stab at times within the work.  I think the composer has succeeded in creating a work that serves the movie extremely well but also there is no doubt at all that one could listen to this music all day and not tire of it without the images it was intended to enhance. There have been a few comments about the music in the movie being performed by synthesised means, I cannot be certain but I am of the opinion that this is probably not the case, the work sounds to robust, too rounded and rich ,but there again I could be wrong.  The opening theme for the score is a riveting piece, and has I think affiliations with both Ennio Morricone and French composer, Jacques Loussier, Reyes utilizes a dark and threatening  piano that almost lumbers into the cue and introduces a gradual build up of the theme, strings and a collection of percussive elements add to the proceedings and create a somewhat complex and shadowy atmosphere. If you have heard the opening theme for THE DARK OF THE SUN by Loussier you will know what I am referring to, the opening builds and builds creating a nervous tension as it does so, but ends abruptly leaving the listener almost dangling in mid air suffering from anxiety. 

The movie itself is I think a throwback from the past, or at least the plot seems to be straight out of Hitchcock’s book on how to make a drama, but at least it is an entertaining piece of cinema that has one on the edge of your seat, and keeps you entertained throughout. Reyes energetic and beautifully powerful music greatly aids the tension and fraught atmosphere and is certainly more than a background or a film score.  Both film and score are highly recommended.





Steel_magnolias_(2012)If like me you have been collecting soundtracks for a few years now (50 years), then when you here the title STEEL MAGNOLIAS you straight away think of composer Georges Delerue who penned a gracious and highly melodic score for the original movie. This latest version of the story is a made for TV movie which will air on the Lifetime channel on November 4th in the U.K. It is a contemporary reworking of the now classic tearjerker, directed by Kenny Leon and stars among others, Queen Latifah, Alfre Woodard and Phylicia Rashad, it tells the story of six outstanding and remarkable American Southern States women who support each other and are there for each other through what ever life throws at them, this truly moving romantic drama also stars Jill Scott, Condola Rashad and Adepero Oduyem. The music for this movie is the work of composer William Ross, now here is a composer who has worked steadily over the years and during this time has produced some wonderful scores for both cinema and television. STEEL MAGNOLIAS is certainly no exception to this rule, it is a highly emotive work that has many delicate and pleasing nuances that seem to start out as small but attractive pieces and then flourish and grow into even more beautiful and melodious themes that captivate as well as entertain the listener. The composer puts to effective use solo piano and supports this with strings that are lush, romantic, melancholy and comedic (when pizzicato is used) in their sound and style, he also makes effective use of little woodwind touches that further enhance and embellish the proceedings, and also includes woodwind as main instrumentation on a few of the cues. It is difficult to put Delerue’s score out of ones head, but I assure you if you can you are in for a wonderful listening treat. The compact disc opens with THE MAIN TITLE, this begins with solo piano that is underlined by plucked bass’s which punctuate and add depth to the theme that is being introduced by the piano, piano fades away as do the plucked bass‘s and are replaced by low strings that them selves act as a background to at first a fairly low key motif performed by woodwind, this acts as an introduction to the piano which re-emerges into the composition. Little woodwind flourishes are added as the track progress’s and although fairly brief it engages the listener and creates an atmosphere that is calming and faintly intriguing. Jumping forward in the track listings to cue number 5, SHELBY AND M’LYNN’S FAREWELL, strings introduce the cue slowly, as piano begins to pick out the 4 note central melody which is also slow but touching and poignant, strings then work their way back into the cue and lift the piece slightly in tempo and also make it much lighter and happier sounding. This is rather short lived as an air of sadness seems to return with piano once again taking centre stage supported by subdued strings.
In many ways I was reminded of Ennio Morricone’s central theme from LOVE AFFAIR with this cue and in fact there are a number of moments within the score when one could be forgiven for think that we were listening to Morricone. Ross uses the strings and also the woodwind in a similar fashion and whilst these are acting as a background the piano is performing a simple theme that just tugs at the heart strings and steals the show as it were. The core theme for the soundtrack can be heard throughout the work and it weaves its way in and out of various tracks creating this calming but at the same time pleasing and highly emotive atmosphere. Most of the tracks on the release are fairly short although there are a couple Track 15, SHELBY’S COLLAPSE which runs for over 8 mins, and is a musical exercise in how to create pure emotion, strings again along with piano and woodwind create a touching and affecting piece. Also there is, NEVER BE SORRY which is the final track on the disc which runs for just over 4 mins and is a fitting finale to the soundtrack, the composer giving more work to the woodwind within this cue. I suppose it is unfair to compare this score with the Delerue work but lets just say, this soundtrack by William Ross certainly holds its own and also has within it some beautiful themes and elegant tone poems that will I know melt a few hearts and bring a tear to a few eyes also.