Thursday, 5 January 2017

Exotic flavours: part 2

Title: L’Araucana (Conquest of Chile)
Year: 1971
Composer: Carlo Savina

One composer yet to be tackled in my blog is Carlo Savina who was a respected conductor of many great composers including Miklós Rózsa and Nino Rota to name a few. He did also arrangements and additional music while having a significant film music career of his own. With his score to L’Araucana, a film about the conquistadors arriving to Chile in the 1500s, he provided music of great contrasts.

The score can be roughly divided into 3 categories: the martial and destructive music for the conquistadors and their war with the natives, the romantic material for the female lead and the ‘South American’ music for the natives. The title track L’Araucana introduces a heroic theme for brass that isn’t that far from something Rózsa could have written in his prime years, though it also has qualities of some spaghetti western melodies. It’s developed further in the following track Conquistadores march combined to martial drum beats and a few menacing stringers that signal the terror that is to come. Lautaro has first moments of suspenseful creeping-around music that has some nods to the tribal music with an added ethnic flute. Many of the short tracks reprise the martial themes in a fashion that reminds me of TV scoring creating stringers that need to work in the scene but which can feel a bit disjointed on the album on their own. The burning sun and Inexorable march both feature the main theme over a steady rhythm that clearly suits for an army preparing for a battle. The latter also has a short appearance of the doomsday hymn Dies irae that represents the impending doom. There’s also a battle motif in The Earth shakes and Araucana attack which is basically just a low piano chord played rhythmically. The main theme brings the album to a close in a fanfare-like fashion in Finale which is a bittersweet sendoff.

The first appearance of the romantic material is in the brief First kiss that introduces the film’s gorgeous love theme on solo viola. It gets its full version for flute, harp and harpsichord in Inez and Pedro which is the album’s highlight cue. The moment is short-lived but luckily the following Mi coya reprises the theme right before the conflict begins. Court rumours has the love theme played on a crystal clear Spanish trumpet solo that turns rather dubious at the end. The solo viola plays mournfully in Chained to the wall before it resolves to an unexpected church organ solo of Married which is followed by a series of consecutive short reprises of the love theme in settings both menacing and agonizingly beautiful.

By far the most interesting part of the soundtrack is the music for the natives. I don’t really know why it sounds ‘South American’ to me but there clearly is a quality that feels real and not just a composer trying to create an artificial sounding depiction of a culture. The music is dominated by ethnic flutes and light percussion but overall the tracks are scored very sparsely and thoughtfully. Nothing is underlined and the music has given a marvelous amount of space to breathe and float. The recording of the instruments sounds simultaneously crisp and ancient which just adds to their charm. The first introduction of these elements comes in Cuzco 1540 depicting the life in the Incan capital. It features both the pristine flutes but also tribal percussion that is made edgier by a buzzing organ effect. Wedding ceremony has the flute dancing around some plucked instruments creating a moment of unconventional beauty without ‘Western’ melodies. As the war draws nearer, the flute becomes a character too and starts to sound more beaten down such as in Riverbound. You can clearly hear the devastation in the performance of Inez returns home and Aftermath that both end with melodies similar to the conquistadors’ music. Meanwhile the preparation of the natives is represented with menacing percussion effects of Children of one God, Electing the warchief, Araucana beat and the two Percussive tracks. There’s also a longer piece of tribal drumming called Araucana dance that is a fun addition among the serious tone of the rest of the album.

Though the album consists of very short cues (the total duration is 38 minutes and there are 40 tracks), there’s a great flow to the album and the cues seem to blend into each other beautifully creating a cohesive tone poem of sorts. I actually think the album works better as an individual piece rather than several short moments. One complaint I have though and that is about the errors in the album’s tracklist and the actual music on the CD. Below the review I’ve assembled the tracks like they are heard when the album is played and in the ( )s their place in the album’s printed tracklist. Nevertheless it’s fine music that really shows great versatility and restraint.

Rating: ****

1. L'ARAUCANA (L'Araucana) (01:01) *****
2. L'ARAUCANA (Conquistadores march) (01:16) *****
3. L'ARAUCANA (Cuzco 1540) (01:50) *****
4. L'ARAUCANA (Lautaro) (01:27) ****
5. L'ARAUCANA (En marcha) (01:15) *****
6. L'ARAUCANA (Wedding ceremony) (01:44) *****
7. L'ARAUCANA (Making crosses) (00:36) ***
8. L'ARAUCANA (Taking tabs) (00:33) ***
9. L'ARAUCANA (The burning sun) (01:29) ***
10. L'ARAUCANA (Inexorable march) (01:07) ***
11. L'ARAUCANA (First kiss) (00:27) *****
12. L'ARAUCANA (Riverbound) (00:34) *****
13. L'ARAUCANA (Submission) (00:42) **
14. L'ARAUCANA (Children of one God) (00:46) **
15. L'ARAUCANA (Inez and Pedro) (01:21) *****
16. L'ARAUCANA (Mi coya) (00:41) *****
17. L'ARAUCANA (Electing the warchief) (01:03) **
18. L'ARAUCANA (Araucana beat) (01:48) ****
19. L'ARAUCANA (Ambush) (00:26) ***
20. L'ARAUCANA (The Earth shakes) (00:53) ***
21. (22.) L'ARAUCANA (Inez returns home) (01:06) *****
22. (23.) L'ARAUCANA (Aftermath) (00:27) ***
23. (24.) L'ARAUCANA (Court rumours) (00:25) *****
24. (25.) L'ARAUCANA (Sentence of death) (00:33) ***
25. (21.) L'ARAUCANA (Araucana dance) (02:33) ****
26. L'ARAUCANA (Chained to the wall) (00:19) ***
27. L'ARAUCANA (Married) (00:29) ****
28. L'ARAUCANA (Don Pedro's trial) (01:20) *****
29. L'ARAUCANA (Don Pedro de Valdivia - I) (00:34) ****
30. L'ARAUCANA (Don Pedro de Valdivia - II) (00:24) ****
31. L'ARAUCANA (Don Pedro remembers) (01:23) *****
32. L'ARAUCANA (Ego te absulvo) (00:26) ***
33. L'ARAUCANA (Fanfares) (00:22) ***
34. L'ARAUCANA (Don Pedro's parade) (01:59) ***
35. L'ARAUCANA (Suspence) (00:55) ***
36. L'ARAUCANA (Araucana attack) (01:20) ***
37. (39.) L'ARAUCANA (Santiago del nuevo extremo) (00:17) *****
38. (37.) L'ARAUCANA (Percussive I) (00:52) **
39. (38.) L'ARAUCANA (Percussive II) (00:52) ***
40. L'ARAUCANA (Finale) (00:49) *****

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