Lust, Caution/Desplat

September 29, 2007

se_jie_2007.gifThe film music of Alexandre Desplat has always intrigued this reviewer. He is a throwback in the respect that he truly offers us a real melody like Steiner use to. I reference Max because both composers love the use of the harp. I know that Steiner’s wife played in the Warner Bros. Orchestra which could be the reason why there always seemed to be a nice part for Louise included in a lot of the scores. Perhap Desplat just seems to want to use it for part of the rhythm and harmony in some of his cues and I like it. The use of it gives him a unique sound which is easily recognizable. He is the most exciting composer to appear on the film scene in quite a long time. My first introduction to him was a film called The Girl With A Pearl Earring and the interest has continued through Birth, Hostage, The Queen, and The Painted Veil. In fact I chose The Painted Veil as the best score of 2006. Many CD’s that sit on one of my 4 desks are listened to once and filed away, perhaps never to be listened to again. When a package arrived in the mail yesterday it wasn’t even opened immediately but when I did later and saw Desplat as the composer the interest was there. The film Lust, Caution is a tale of love and intrigue set in Shanghai during World War 2. It has already won the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival. The opening track “Lust, Caution” albiet a short minute introduces the mystery with the low throaty flute and the mournful solo violin. “Dinner Waltz” is a lovely waltz with the piano playing of Alain Planes leading the strings. The same theme “Dinner Waltz” is also featured in a track with the Traffic Quintet and Mr. Planes. But it is “Falling Rain” which is the introduction of the beautiful theme for the female lead in the film Wong Chia Chi that is well worth the price of purchasing this CD. It is also used and hinted at in the tracks “Wong Chia Chi’s Theme”, “Exodus”, “The End of Innocence”, and “The Angel” but “Falling Rain” is my favorite. Its the kind of track that gives you goosebumps and you want to turn it up louder and listen to it over and over again! “Nanjing Road” has the unique honor of including the director of the picture, Ang Lee, performing on the piano on a tense dark underscore track. Alain Planes does superb piano work on the tracks as well as performing the Brahms Intermezzo in A Major.

While I cannot comment on the film as it has yet to be released I can strongly recommend the soundtrack as I have with most of Desplat scores. His style could very easily fit into the Golden Age category yet he certainly doesn’t follow any of the Wagner styles. It is refreshing and unique.


Based on the famous horror story Thjekyll-and-hyde-variations.gife Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, Morton Gould has crafted a wonderful 12 twelve-tone like story of the split personality. I say like because it doesn’t quite adhere to the strict rules of the Schoenberg twelve-tone structure of composition which requires that each of the notes of the chromatic scale are sounded as often as one another in a piece of music. And while this is likely not a work that you are going to pick up on immediately, repeated listens will give one a sense of what Morton attempted to accomplish.

As far as my research has taken me this Naxos CD is the only available recording of this work. In fact Gould, for the most part, is a forgotten man. There are a few recordings of his RCA material, another of his Americana work on Naxos (8.559005), but little else. Yet in his own way he contributed as much to American music as Aaron Copland.

The first track, a very brief 1:15 gives us the theme which is the most lyrical of the thirteen total tracks. However the theme does denote the split personality quite well in that the second half is a mirror copy of the first. As each variation is played the overall mood of the music changes from the good Dr. Jekyll to the demonic Hyde. Variation 3 is a good example of a depiction of the struggle between good and evil as it appears at least on this variation the good is going to win over the evil. Variation #6 is almost a resigning to the fact that Dr. Jekyll is losing out to Hyde. Variation #12 has Hyde in all of his glory. The dissonant use of the horns tells the story. The last variation is reserved for a sort of reflective track which sums up the entire piece.

Morton Gould has told with this work told an excellent story of the good and evil of Jekyll and Hyde. Of course it is impossible to compare the recording to anything else given that it is the only available recording. As far as this reviewer is concerned the Nashville Symphony conducted by Kenneth Schermerhorn (one of his last performances) do a fine job. And I’ll say it again. Naxos are good values in recordings and an easy way to explore something new without breaking the budget. There are good liner notes included by Steven Ledbetter. This CD also includes the Fall River Legend Ballet (Lizzy Borden).


Golden Scores Rating ***

Engineered and Produced by Tim Handley

Naxos # 8.559242

Total Time of Variations is 21:20