Film scores

Soundtrack review: Early works (Abel Korzeniowski – 2016)

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I love discovering the beginnings of my favorite composers. It’s one of the most fascinating things for me; even if the beginnings might be stumbled or raw or not as exciting as their works now it’s still my favorite journey to take. It’s just the way I am; it’s not just about film music. I love to watch the first episode of a TV show immediately after I’ve watched the last; I love to see how characters met and how they looked at each other with me knowing what was to come. I love reading my early writings or remembering my first days in this place or the other. So Caldera Records’ initiative to release the “Early works” of Abel Korzeniowski on this 2CD collection was right up my alley and I couldn’t wait to take this journey.

It’s very easy for me to connect with “I served the king of England” from the beginning because of the Easter European flavored instrumentation and vibe. The accordion and dulcimer make me feel like home and all that’s missing is the gypsy violin. Somehow the music also has a Celtic flavor or at least that’s how it sounds to me and I am a happy listener. The story is set in Prague during the Nazi occupation and the early days of communism while a prospective hotel employee tries to make his fortune as alternating regimes make little sense for him.

The harmonica that takes center stage in “Dumka” brings a sadness I am accustomed to. It sounds like the proper music to show us someone who tries to get by in hard times. I feel the World War II setting as I listen to the violin which accompanies the harmonica. Some moments from the music written for this play also make me think of Goran Bregovic’s scores for Emir Kusturica movies. Once again for me this is a very familiar and special sound and if you aren’t into Eastern European music and instruments it might seem strange or exotic to you. To me, “I served the king of England” has a nostalgic factor and feels like wearing worn but very comfortable clothes. The melancholy in these cues will speak to everyone and I am sure you will all appreciate the way the music feels personal and intimate rather than express the changes and turmoil of the outside world.

“The odyssey” is a play version of the Homer epic poem. It sounds strange to have this in play format especially when you consider the volume of the work but I guess someone had the courage to tackle the project and be successful with it. The saga of Ulysses benefited in 2005 from the music of the one who will become one of the best and most successful composers from the acclaimed Polish school of film music.

If I had heard “Odysseus’ theme” 11 years ago when it came out…if I had been in the theater hall for that play or somehow been able to hear these magical sounds I would have frantically searched for the composer and I wouldn’t have rested until I knew who he was. I would have chained myself to the music of the one who could put so much emotion and tenderness in a cue, someone who can write a theme that goes straight to my heart. And that was just the opening theme. I would have wondered then who is the composer who can built a time machine like this and transport me to ancient times with such force and determination; who can conjure a brand new world around me with the sounds of woodwinds and distant drums that create an almost mystical atmosphere. “Circe” is another stunning piece that just hypnotizes me.

It’s not all magic and fantasy in “The odyssey” but the score is getting more and more real as the cues go by. The sounds of horses and crowds chanting the screaming add to the appeal of the music and I feel as if I’m actually in that theater watching the play enfold. I am charmed by “Penelope’s theme” and I am wondering why anyone hasn’t released this score until now. I’m glad Caldera did and took this treasure out of the attic.

“Kafka” starts the second CD and Abel Korzeniowski says that this is the favorite play he worked on. He remembered the play happening with just 6 actors on a tiny stage in the cellars of a 700 year old town hall in Krakow. The play was written in the same bizarre and surrealistic manner in which Franz Kafka himself used to write. Abel of course had to deliver a score to match.

Here as well I recognize a special kind of instrument that delivers charming and hypnotic sounds, the harp. There were only six actors on the stage and there might be even fewer instruments on a cue like “Memories” but they work together so well that there’s no need for anything else. We are in the land of the bizarre so I can imagine the violin, the harp and the piano sitting together and having a conversation or acting their parts. The trumped joins them with her story and I wish I had the memory of hearing this cue in context.

“Dance obscene” is insane and amusing. The accordion, the brass instruments and the piano all sound disguised and dance with each other in a wonderfully chaotic mix. This is the kind of cue I can imagine hearing during a play and not necessarily out of context. But the true highlight of this section of the album is “Amalia”. This cue tiptoes around me playing hide and seek and attracting me in her game. The music is lively and playful and I am both amused by it and attracted by it. “Amalia” is full of surprises and joy just like a girl you would instantly want to spend more time with. Quirky is how I would describe the music of “Kafka” and it’s definitely something to listen to.

Sophocles’ “Antigone” is one of the very few Ancient Greek plays to survive and also one of the most performed title from the era. This play is part of Sophocles’ Theban trilogy which consists of “Oedipus Rex”, “Oedipus et Colonus” and “Antigone”, written first but taking place last in the chronology. Antigone is a young girl who is forced to choose between the Law of the King and the Law of the Gods. When she decides to bury her brother who was forbidden such honors by the new king, Antigone must face the wrath of her uncle who decides to bury the girl alive for her disobedience.

The score is made of four “stasimons” and as soon as the accusing and powerful female choir starts chanting in the first one I know I have a sort of advantage compared to a lot of people who will listen to this score because I did a couple of years ago a “Polish composers month” on my site and somber choral pieces like this one were quite frequent. There is a certain heaviness in the way the chants are performed and they actually make me think of the not so pleasant part of the religion: the accusations, the implacable crowds condemning someone for disobeying rules that might not make a lot of sense. The religious factor is very strong for me in “Antigone” and it echoes back to a lot of poignant and affecting scores written for movies with biblical subjects.

That’s all “Antigone” is… a collection of choral chants, heavy and heart breaking that make me wonder how I would have perceived them had I listened to them in context, at the theater. The music sends chills down my spine and it’s not something I would listen to again because of that. I am even scared as I get to “Stasimon IV”. This just proves how efficient the music is.

“The tempest” is one of the last plays written by Shakespeare. The story is set on a remote island where the rightful Duke of Milan, the sorcerer Prospero is plotting vengeance against his usurping brother Antonio. By conjuring the titular tempest, Propero uses illusions and manipulation to reveal the true nature of his brother and let his daughter Miranda become what she was born to be. This is actually the only play from this “Early works” collection that I have seen performed.

The renaissance sound in “Song of time” is done simply and beautifully. There’s a single motif repeating itself but it makes me think of a couple opening the dance in a ballroom, carefully taking each step and looking into the partner’s eyes. The raw and piercing strings dominate the beginning of the score and I feel as if I’m watching a chamber concert. I can almost see the concentrated faces and the fingers of the performers giving voice to these wonderful sounds.

Strangely, considering that this particular score is the longest on the “Early works” album and the one with the most time to develop it also feels the most normal of all 5 and the one with the fewest highlights for me. The overall sound is very nice and brings the right stamp to the story but I think “The tempest” works much better in the context of the play. The music makes me long for the corresponding images… for the costumes of the age, for the characters to fill the music with their feelings and thoughts.

Each different piece of music from the varied and complex “Early works” collection is a reason to love Abel Korzeniowski’s compositions even more. His early musings are just as wonderful and rewarding as the scores we’ve been listening to for a few years now. I’m grateful to Caldera for this release and for the change to discover the first sprouts of the career of one of my favorite composers.

Highlights:

I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND: Danube River

Dumka

THE ODYSSEY: Odysseus’ Theme

Athena

Circe

The Cows of Helios

Penelope’s Theme

Sirens

KAFKA: Memoirs

Amalia

ANTIGONE: Stasimon I

THE TEMPEST: Dance of tempest

Arliel’s Dance

Song of Light

Song of Time II

 

 

About the author

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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