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Soundtrack review: Alias Grace (Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna – 2017)

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Soundtrack review: Alias Grace (Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna – 2017)

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The story of ALIAS GRACE follows Grace Marks, a poor, young Irish immigrant and domestic servant in Upper Canada who, along with stable hand James McDermott, was convicted of the brutal murders of their employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery, in 1843. James was hanged while Grace was sentenced to life imprisonment. Grace became one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of 1840s Canada for her supposed role in the sensational double murder, and was eventually exonerated after 30 years in jail. Her conviction was controversial, and sparked much debate about whether Grace was actually involved in the murder, or merely an unwitting accessory. Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna wrote the score and it’s always nice to hear a Celtic inspired composition from them.

The score opens with such a beautiful and romantic violin theme sprinkled with flute in “Grace in the mirror”; there is no Celtic element in it but the romance and emotion are there. I have to get out of the melancholic mood and remember that this is a drama, a thriller story with twists and troubles and there will be sharper, livelier music in the album; I feel the strings of “Kingston Penitentiary, 1859” like knives. I like the way the strings play with the flute in “McDermott is hung” even better; it’s the kind of frantic orchestral cue that makes my heart jump in my throat with emotion and I feel my emotions build up together with the music. There’s no unnecessary drama in this cue and right after it comes a piece where the delightful flute section takes centre stage. The cues are short but very meaningful orchestral motifs that work very well both separately or as a musical story. I could pick any piece from “Alias Grace” and still enjoy the music.

The best thing about this score is hot the composers use the strings to convey the emotions they need to transmit; sometimes they tremble as if tortured, other times they sound clean and melodic and other times they come at me like hoards of arrows shot from a distance. I like the romantic motifs a lot; the music is simple and beautiful and the Danna brothers do a very good job to write the period sound of the story. I am happy to discover a deep and almost elegiac piano motif as well in the beginning of the dark “Torn open”. A meaningful and emotional insert like “My methods take time” is less than one minute long but another point made by the composers.

When my biggest dilemma at the end of a score is choosing which parts I liked best or which instrument had the most meaningful motifs or simply which sound I enjoyed the most it means I have just listened to a beautiful and rich score with an abundance of orchestral and tonal gems and with the right balance between drama, romance, suspense or even horror (“Grace’s dream”). The Danna brothers show once again that almost every score written by them is a safe be and if you enjoy beautiful orchestral music you can’t go wrong with “Alias Grace”.

Cue rating: 92 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 30 / 50

Album excellence: 60%

Highlights:
Grace In the Mirror
McDermott Is Hung
Quilts
A Terrible Shock
Funeral At Sea
Mary Whitney
Torn Open
Home for Christmas
My Methods Take Time
Mary’s Burial
Nancy Montgomery Herself
Grace’s Dream
Firefly
Flight
Simon’s Fantasy
Grace’s Letter
Embroidery of the Tree of Paradise

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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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