Painted Veil/Desplat

January 22, 2007


The Painted Veil , a novel by Somerset “Of Human Bondage” Maugham, is a remake of the 1934 film starring Gretta Garbo. Directed by John Curran and starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton (also producers), it tells the story of a marriage gone awry from the husband devoting himself to research, a wife having a resulting affair but finding herself, over her dedication to fighting cholera in the Far East.

Desplat, one of the very best of the recent crop of contemporary composers, seems to come up with one success after another and this is no exception. Already a winner of the Golden Globe for 2006, Painted Veil is sure to be a Oscar nomination in spite of the lack luster box office performance of the film to date. Couple this with his other successful 2006 film The Queen, for which he might very well receive yet another nomination, and you have the making of an ‘A’ list composer. It is recorded on the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label with the Prague Symphony Orchestra and the exciting Lang Lang (pronounced long long) performing the piano work. Lang Lang, the Chinese born 24 year old, has already become a solid new charismatic super star on the classical scene, and his performance on this recording merely adds to the already solid concerts and recordings he has done.

The opening track “The Painted Veil” immediately sets the mood with the percussion followed by the piano setting a quick almost frantic tempo for the slower moving main theme to be introduced. At the same time that the piano, percussion, and introduction to the main theme are happening you hear an oriental phrase cleverly inserted to let the film watcher know where the film is taking place. To this reviewer this is a first class piece of orchestration done by Alexandre himself (not the norm), along with performing keyboards, piano, percussion, and flute Desplat keeps himself quite involved in the making of a soundtrack. The theme will appear in various tracks in different orchestrations such as “Promenade”, “Death Convoy”, “Kitty’s Journey”, ” The End of Love” and others. Pay special attention to how Desplat uses the harp in his arrangements. “River Waltz”, a beautiful melody, is performed by Lang Lang on this track with an orchestral accompaniment and also as a piano solo on an additional track. It is a simple elegant melody performed to perfection along the lines of a Mancini waltz as opposed to Strauss. “Cholera” makes excellent use of the fine work of Vincent Segal and his electric cello with Lang Lang providing almost a relentless background of the same chords over and over again along with the percussion. “Walter’s Mission” is done with the Desplat sound intermixed with an oriental flavor. “From Shanghai to London” makes an effective use of the percussion again creating a tick tock tick tock background to the track. The one source piece is a sonata piano performance of Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1 from Lang Lang which nicely blends in with the other cues on this soundtrack. He plays it with delicacy yet is forceful when it is called for.

There is nothing but positive things to be said about this soundtrack from the piano of Lang Lang, recording and mixing, the Prague Symphony Orchestra, and the cello work of Segal. With “Firewall”, “The Queen”, and now “Painted Veil” in 2006 it has made for an extremely successful year for Desplat. How ironic that the last release received by me for 2006 would be one of, if not the finest recording. Highly recommended!!!

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