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Soundtrack review: Genius (Lorne Balfe – 2017)

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Soundtrack review: Genius (Lorne Balfe – 2017)

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“Genius” is an American anthology period drama television series produced by National Geographic, developed by Noah Pink and Kenneth Biller, which premiered on April 25, 2017.[2] The first season follows the life of Albert Einstein, from his early years, through his time as a patent clerk, to his later years as a physicist who developed the theory of relativity. The season is based on the 2007 book Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson. The main theme was written by Hans Zimmer and the score itself by Lorne Balfe. This is the official release of the score after the EP we got earlier this year.

It’s true that for the past couple of years Lorne Balfe has been involved in anything and has written a ridiculous number of score; but this is because the versatility of his music is maybe matched only by Marco Beltrami. Here we get a mainly orchestral score, lighter than one might expect since it’s Einstein we’re talking about, but totally understandable considering this series is documentary like and when it comes to writing music for a documentary a composer needs to let the images speak louder. “Truth, goodness and beauty” finds the perfect balance between meaningful music wrapped inside a simple string based theme and this need not to overcome the power of the story.

The quirky and subtle piano in “A powerful mind” makes me think of a train of thought that finds its conclusion; I like that this score is optimistic at its core and music infused with this emotion sounds good and fresh. This particular theme spreads like ripples on a quiet lake and Lorne is the pebble that created them. It doesn’t take more than these four minutes to make me remember this theme and I also got a sunny feeling of Thomas Newman from it; it has that misleading lightness in it that hides so much more that I discover with every further listen.

The piano gets more depth in “In love with the mind”, a quiet cue that just justifies my love for the solo piano. Sometimes it feels like an improvisation, like the pianist is just sitting there and letting his inspiration of the moment guide his fingers but how else could a cue about the mind work?
Lorne changes the mood with the ambient “Solitude”, a cue that’s written almost with an echo as if to suggest that feeling. I knew Lorne can write deep ambient pieces and I was glad to find one here, beautiful, serious and overwhelming in a way. “Pure mathematics” starts simple and, just as mathematics, at least for me, hides a gorgeous motif in the middle when some discovery is being made; I don’t know if Lorne himself liked mathematics as a child but that middle section of this cue made me remember the joy of unblocking a problem when I was working on them with my dad back in the days.

Back in the days is also where “Discoveries” sends me. This is my favorite cue from the score so far, with its retro synth beginning and undertone and the cello motif. Then the violin adds another layer and I can almost imagine the world’s strangest chamber orchestra with the usual instruments plus a synth board in a corner. It’s Lorne Balfe so it’s very hard to choose but this might be one of the most beautiful cues he has ever written. This is chamber orchestra Lorne and it’s not a place he visits that often; he should do so and keep that synth in there. He should lock himself in there and come up with magnificent pieces like “Time is but a stubborn illusion”; this score gets more beautiful, more intense and more emotional with every cue. Once again, it’s one of my favorite composers we’re talking about so I expected to be affected but not stunned as I am as this score opens up to me. How can anyone be left indifferent at a cue like this? I swear there are moments when I feel that “Time is but a stubborn illusion” was written in collaboration with a genius like Mike Oldfield. I would love to hear this there developed, turned into an album by itself, I would love to be able to hear more of this. Oh how wonderfully reflective and dreamy this one is…

…and it would be unfair to keep the entire score like that so Lorne gets louder with “Solutions” and “Memory is deceptive”, wakeup calls to the fact that there are other things happening in the world of “Genius” besides thinking and dreaming. It’s still an improvisation but of a different kind. This is what I Like the most about this score: the feeling that sometimes the music is let free and takes a life of its own; but how else would a score about one of the greatest minds ever develop.

“Genius” is a score that offers much more than even I expected going in. The string pieces delighted me, the ambient ones mesmerized me and the more frantic ones provided the necessary breaks in the flow. “Genius” is the kind of score that also is denser than the 52 minutes of length and has no filler moments. Absolutely another winner for Lorne, not forgetting the main theme written by Hans Zimmer. Do not miss this one.

Cue rating: 97 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 83%

Album excellence: 43 / 52

Highlights:
Truth, Goodness and Beauty
A Powerful Mind
Solitude
Pure Mathematics
In Love With The Mind
Discoveries
Time Is But A Stubborn Illusion
Noble Thoughts and Deeds
Never Stop Questioning
Man of Value
Imagination
Universe
Father and Son
Everybody Is A Genius
Genius (Hans Zimmer)

 

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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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