Friday, 20 January 2017

CrimeWaves: part 3

Title: L’orchestra rossa (The red orchestra)
Year: 1989
Composer: Carlo Savina

During the 80s Carlo Savina’s scores actually started to lean towards more orchestral approaches even though the trend was to include synthesizers in the scores. Nowhere is this more apparent than in L’orchestra rossa which was one of the last scores he ever composed. This French film is about Soviet espionage rings working in Nazi Germany and has music by an Italian composer. Though having such international potential, the film is once again unknown and almost no material can be found about it online, not even any sound clips of the score that was released by the Spanish record label Saimel in 2011.

The score’s opening track play out like an overture of sorts introducing the moods that the score consists of. It begins with dramatic string stabs accompanied by martial percussion rattles that depict the turmoil that was going on in Europe at the time. A secondary theme is then introduced briefly on a solo clarinet, a melody that has some march-like qualities to it followed by a glimpse of something Slavic folk song like. But at 2-minute mark a longlined string melody appears which is the film’s main theme. That melody is then joined by an accordion and it swells for a short moment in a beautiful modal fashion. However the track concludes with a hopeful melody for horns and solo violin that unfortunately never appears again until the very end. The melody has some old-time Hollywood qualities to it or perhaps something Jerry Goldsmith might have come up with.

The score begins properly in Seq. 2 with those dance-like Slavic folk song melodies hinted at the beginning performed by a clarinet, swirling fiddle solo and accordion over dramatic martial percussion and staccato piano chords. The main theme gets its first full version in Seq. 4 beginning with a solo violin playing in the darkness before the strings come in with dramatic piano notes. The rest of the piece jumps back and forth from the secondary clarinet march theme and the main theme in an ominous fashion.

The weakest parts of the score for me are the suspense tracks that don’t really go anywhere and mostly consist of just wandering strings. These elements start Seq. 5 but luckily both the secondary march theme and main theme get fine versions at the end of the track that prevents it from becoming dull. The track also introduces a new accordion theme briefly that is certainly Slavic in nature and rather moving. This theme gets a full version in Seq. 7 with mournful strings backing the accordion melody that features folk music inspired accents and in Seq. 17 with almost jazzy harmonies. The suspense continues in Seq. 10 which begins with the martial folk song melodies of Seq. 2 but then changes the mood to sinister strolling that is briefly interrupted with another cleverly disguised and harmonized main theme version. The dullest dramatic track is Seq. 13 which just provides sleep-inducing suspense writing that really doesn’t raise any suspicions that it probably should within the context of the film.

Though the score is mostly very dramatic there are moments of pure beauty such as Seq. 11 which begins with a tear-jerking rendition of the accordion theme before changing into the most fragile version of the main theme this time with modal harmonies that bring both folk songs and early sacred music to mind. I just adore how different harmonies Savina utilizes with his main theme which completely changes how the melody feels. There’s a Slavic waltz track for violin and clarinet in Seq. 15 that is extremely dark but agonizingly beautiful and romantic at the same time. The secondary march theme gets a nostalgic variation in Seq. 16 without the martial backing which makes the listener realize how great a melody it really is.

There are also a number of source cues on the album. The first one, Seq. 3 is an Argentinian tango piece for violin and accordion that is good fun though nothing really that special. The background music for bar scenery is mostly performed in three piano solos: Seq. 6, Seq. 9 and Seq. 12 which all are pleasantly melodic. First of which being more thoughtful and nostalgic while the second more upbeat and the last perhaps a little patriotic before turning melancholic in its B section. By far the greatest source cue is Seq. 14 which is a lounge jazz cue for sensual clarinet, trumpet and different kinds of twinkling organs or vibraphones.

The finale cue is another mixture of styles beginning with a short source waltz that is interrupted by pastoral version of the main theme that then turns back to martial percussion and wandering suspense strings. Luckily the melodies soon return first with a nostalgic version of the accordion theme that sounds like it has aged during the album’s duration. After more suspense writing the track starts to make its way towards a climax. Surprisingly it never reaches it but quiets down to solo clarinet and violin performing the main theme in stillness. The last part of the track reprises the overture’s version of the main theme complete with the hopeful Hollywood melody that ends the score with an emotional high note.

L’orchestra rossa has to be one of the most agonizingly attractive pieces of music Savina ever created. The dullness of the suspense cues and slow-moving nature of many of the tracks are the only issues I have with the score. Even the source pieces seem to fit well into the soundscape Savina has crafted here, which just oozes with class perfectly suitable for an espionage flick. If you fancy thematic orchestral music strongly rooted in folk music inspired melodies, this hidden gem might just be right up your alley.

Rating: ****

1. L'orchestra rossa (Seq. 1) (04:42) *****
2. L'orchestra rossa (Seq. 2) (02:46) *****
3. L'orchestra rossa (Seq. 3) (02:15) ***
4. L'orchestra rossa (Seq. 4) (03:47) *****
5. L'orchestra rossa (Seq. 5) (04:06) ****
6. L'orchestra rossa (Seq. 6) (01:53) ****
7. L'orchestra rossa (Seq. 7) (01:29) ****
8. L'orchestra rossa (Seq. 8) (01:25) ****
9. L'orchestra rossa (Seq. 9) (01:26) ***
10. L'orchestra rossa (Seq. 10) (04:00) ****
11. L'orchestra rossa (Seq. 11) (02:06) *****
12. L'orchestra rossa (Seq. 12) (02:27) ****
13. L'orchestra rossa (Seq. 13) (03:11) ***
14. L'orchestra rossa (Seq. 14) (01:37) *****
15. L'orchestra rossa (Seq. 15) (02:10) *****
16. L'orchestra rossa (Seq. 16) (02:33) ****
17. L'orchestra rossa (Seq. 17) (01:08) *****
18. L'orchestra rossa (Seq. 18) (08:41) ****

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