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Soundtrack review : Penny dreadful (Abel Korzeniowski, 2014)

Film scores

Soundtrack review : Penny dreadful (Abel Korzeniowski, 2014)

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Abel Korzeniowski is one of the composers I get excited about. The Polish school of film music is one I am very fond of. Zbigniew Preisner and Jan AP Kaczmarek for example are two composers I always follow and listen to. I love the depth and elegance of Abel Korzeniowski’s compositions and I always know that whenever one of his scores comes out, I won’t be able to easily get over it or forget it.  
“Penny dreadful” is no exception. I ventured to listen to this score before actually seeing the TV show, and after having read that it was mostly a horror score. I ignored these two facts and took a leap of faith which was fully rewarded, and then some. I discovered a truly beautiful score, one that warmed my heart instead of chilling my blood, and a score I will come back and listen to quite often.
This score has me from the “Main title”, a jolly and catchy theme that I can’t wait to hear in context. Then, with “Modern age” come the strings so sharp and precise that they cut the wrists. That mood is not kept throughout the score, because this wonderful composer gave life to quite a few themes and characters during the 29 cues: there’s the joy in “Street.Horse.Smell.Candle”, with an awesome piano background, a beautiful cue of discovery;  “There is a place” makes me feel as if I’m on the rainy streets of London two hundred years ago, I can almost hear steps echoing on the pavement…”Abomination” is a true horror cue, but I feel it warm, not cold as fear usually is…I can sense the desperation of whichever character this was written for, I can feel how misunderstood he or she is. This cue is not just for frights, it brings some sort of compassion in me.
And when it gets scary, this score makes me want to turn on the lights… The horror cues are sharp and  intense: “Monsters” is incredibly frightening , pure horror; “Mother of evil” evokes for me the depths of a dungeon, a deep endless abyss; “Last rites” is damn scary once it takes off,  as if out of nowhere, and I love the strange insane noises in “I’m not myself”. I can’t wait to see that scene.
Actually, this is another thing that makes “Penny dreadful” great:  usually, with a TV show, I catch glimpses of the music and it makes me want to listen to more, to hear those cues, to come back to them. This time it’s just the opposite:  most of the cues send me directly to the show they were made for; I can’t wait to see the images and recognize the music.
My favorite tracks are “Welcome to the Grand Guignol”, which builds up and pierces in the most pleasant way, a cue that I can’t shake off, a subtle and rich track that begs me to listen to it over and over again; “Secret room”, a cue that feels like the revealing of the big secret in an M. Night Shyamalan movie; “In Peace” and “Reborn”, two of the last tracks on this album, both haunting and addictive.  
“Penny dreadful” is a rare treat. It’s a TV score that is great as a standalone listen. The words that come to mind when I think of it are beautiful and addictive. It’s a score to listen to on a peaceful day when it rains gently but continuously and you read a long novel that you love to get lost in… If fear was warm, it would feel like “Penny”. I wouldn’t even call this a horror score. I would call it a gorgeous, piercing, haunting composition with strings that leave marks, painful but so sweet…and whatever the strings gently and constantly cut, the piano comes to sooth. This album is deep, rich and I would love to hear more music from this TV show.  
My ratings:
Cue score: 96 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 73  / 73
Album excellence: 100%
Replay value: 100% (this is a rating that shows the chances of me wanting to listen to this score again)
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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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