I interviewed Pinar Toprak a few years ago now, I was taken with her versatility and also her fresh and enthusiastic attitude and approach to scoring motion pictures. Her music struck a chord with me (forgive the pun). Her compositions I thought were interesting and above all original and entertaining. I am pleased to say that her score for THE RIVER MURDERS has been released by Caldera records, and they have seen fit to give us an extra treat by including her score for SINNER on the same compact disc. THE RIVER MURDERS was released in 2011, and I always wondered why a score that was so good had not had an official release, the film too was an entertaining thriller about a serial killer which starred Ray Liotta and Christian Slater. The surprising thing about the soundtrack is that it contains just two live performances, by this I mean two solo performers, the remainder of the score is constructed and performed on synthesizer etc, but would you know this if not told of it, I doubt it. It is a credit to the artistry of the composer and her skills in the actual orchestrating or fashioning of the music and the way in which she fuses the synthetic with the actual solo performances flawlessly. The central solo instrument is cello, wonderfully performed by Tina Guo who I think we have all heard at some point.

Tina Guo
Tina Guo

She actually takes the music and lovingly purveys it via her cello giving it heart, soul, depth and substance and also via her performance adds real passion to the proceedings. The second soloist is Liz Constantine who provides the haunting vocal performance on the score. Guo’s heartfelt cello performances combine with Constantine’s unblemished vocalizing on occasion within the score to create a wondrous sound that manages to invade the listener’s inner being, the most expressive performance that showcases both the performers talent is for me track number 12, END CREDITS, where we are also treated to a celestial sounding choir. It is also Guo’s performances throughout the score that bring the whole thing together, her sorrowful and poignant sound acting as a bridge between the more dramatic and atonal sections of the score. In many ways the style of music, especially the sections written for cello, evoked memories of some of Ennio Morricone’s work for example, MOSES THE LAWGIVER, and Guo’s performance is not dissimilar in stature and quality to that of the great Dino Asciolla who is a performer that Morricone utilized on many occasions, the choral sections also reminded me of Morricone’s style for example CASULTIES OF WAR with cello weaving its magic within the vocal performances to elevate them to a higher plain, this I think is demonstrated to a greater degree within track number 2, THE FATHER,THE SON AND THE LETTER.


Of course the score does also contain a number of darker and more ominous sounding passages which are largely atmospheric but still contain some thematic properties, Toprak subtly hinting at a more serious, chilling and fearsome atmosphere, with a sprinkling of piano that is underlined by a faint but threatening background. This is a highly emotive and expressive work, and one that you will love. The compact disc also contains the composers score for the 2007 production SINNER, which is also a delight, mesmerizing violin and piano are the main stays of this work, and together and also as solo performances offer up a richness and luxuriously melancholic sound that is hauntingly beautiful. Again I am sure SINNER will delight all who listen to it. A wonderful release from Caldera containing two infectiously attractive works. Also includes a 7 minute audio of the composer talking about her career,and informative liner notes courtesy of Gergely Hubai with a number of stills from The River Murders. Please do not miss this one.


See interview with the composer.

click here to go to Caldera records.


th (59)

SIMON AND THE OAKS is a stunning and epic tale that spans the years of the Second World War and also beyond into the early part of the 1950,s. The story concentrates on Simon a young boy who is brought up within the circle of a loving and caring family in Gothenburg. But he is troubled and confused as he always feels he is out of place and with a family that are very different from him (he later discovers he is adopted). He decides to study and gain knowledge, which is something that his parents are not keen on because they fear he will become aloof and forget his family. After much persuasion Simon’s Father gives in and sends his son to a grammar school which is attended by upper class pupils. It is here that Simon meets Isak who is the son of a wealthy Jewish bookseller, Isak and his family have fled from the persecution of the Nazi’s. Simon befriends the young Jew and is mesmerised by his Fathers collection of books and art and it is then that Simon decides he wants to find out more about his own background. Isak however starts to become interested in working manually and creating things with his hands and begins to assist Simons Father in the building of boats. When Isak has trouble at home he turns to Simon’s family who take him in and as the war escalates and rips Europe apart the two families come closer together integrating and connecting in unusual ways. Set against the backdrop of a brutal war SIMON AND THE OAKS is a gripping and intense tale, with solid and credible performances, the movie explores and lays bare the contrasts of the personal and the political, love and hate, destiny and fate and also attempts to show the watching audience that maybe a broken heart can be repaired and also that it needs to be. The musical score for SIMON AND THE OAKS is the work of composer Annette Focks, who was born in 1964 in Lower Saxony, Germany. She has worked on over 60 film and television scores and been nominated a handful of times and also won awards for her music. The score for Simon and the Oaks is as you can well imagine an emotive one, the composer selecting solo violin as the principal instrument of the score, its haunting and eloquent performances underlining the Jewish themes within the movie and also bringing to the surface a heartfelt and melancholy ambience. The composers moving and mesmerizing thematic properties enhancing and elevating the poignancy, drama and fragility of the storyline, plus also relaying to the listener and watching audience the inner turmoil that Simon is experiencing. The score which is for the majority of its duration fully symphonic is a powerful one and also one that begs to be returned to after one’s initial listen.


The composer employs solo piano on occasion to purvey a rich but at the same time heart breaking and solitary sound as in tracks number 20, KARIN COMES HOME, 21, IZA and track 25 LOVE to single out but three. Woodwind is also utilized to great effect throughout the work enhancing and supporting economically but effectively, with underlying strings augmenting and themselves supporting. I was reminded of the style of composer John Barry on a few occasions whilst listening to the score, delicate woodwind and subtle strings creating lamenting moods and also romantic and haunting moments, which are highly affecting but also understated.Special mention must also be made of the magnificent and totally mesmerizing violin playing of Max Wulfson.

This is a soundtrack that would enrich any film music collection and it is also a score that one will return to on numerous occasions and on each outing you will find something fresh and vibrant. Recommended…
Alhambra records Germany cat number. A 9009.