Saturday, 3 February 2018

Exotic flavours: part 5

Title: The boy & the lion
Year: 2013
Composer: Stelvio Cipriani

Another Italian film music maestro still working today is Stelvio Cipriani. Unfortunately his current projects are very hard to find any information about, including the score we’re listening today: The boy & the lion from 2013. Apparently it is a TV production, and based on the track titles it tells a story about a friendship between a lion and a child. The music really doesn’t represent the wide fields of Africa but rather offers romantic fluff typical for the composer. The instrumentation includes an array of 90s synth elements including percussion, guitars and panpipes which hark back to a long gone nostalgic era. A small string section is also included which provides perhaps the most emotionally moving performances on the album.

The weirdly arranged album begins with 14 variations of the main theme. Usually this would be a tiresome way to start off but luckily the varied arrangements are quite lovely. The theme itself follows basic Cipriani harmonic structure but in the age of lackluster modern film music it is a true delight to hear. Some of the arrangements stand out more than others. The opening moves the melody nicely from instrument to instrument: panpipes to strings, synth oboe to tinkling harpsichord and so on while a cheesy drum beat rolls on underneath. Version 3 includes staccato lines from the strings which flourish along with a sweet solo piano while Version 6 is a more straightforward romantic string and piano duet with beautiful underlying harpsichord ostinato. Version 8 includes a new emotional prelude which then leads to a full, mournful performance of the theme. The problem I have with the string versions is that they sound just like demo recordings of the string sections used in the preceding cues and hence don’t work as well on their own because you’ve already heard how the experience is heightened with the use of solo instruments.

The main theme doesn’t fully disappear after those 14 cues but is featured later in Innocent joy which is a more mature version of Version 8 because the main theme sounds much older here when played by the low strings. Goodbye my friend is a full version of the main theme prelude with tinkling, warm synth textures which later reprise the theme as well as the ostinato. The beginning of the finale Across the land sounds pretty dated with its pop-sensibilities. However a surprise addition of a solo (non-synthetic!) saxophone appears out of nowhere and turns the track into something similar of Jerry Goldsmith’s The Russia house. While not as great as that score, it is certainly a powerful yet cheesy end to the album.

The second theme is called Lion’s waltz, a major key melody which is quite childlike and innocent with its cute synth elements. It’s a charming little tune but not as successful as the main theme. The same melody is turned into Animal’s march which is probably the most cheap-sounding cue of the score with horrendous synth drumkit and keyboard sounds straight out of a 90s children’s TV show. Running is one of the more serious cues on the album starting with the main theme ostinato but then developing into a nostalgic new tune based on the chord structures of both the previous themes. The end of the cue continues straight to Playing in the sun which is another innocent, summery waltz track. The two Jungle life cues are first real attempts of something exotic and wild with groovy basslines, tribal yet synthetic percussion and ghostly panpipes in the first version. The second one has only the percussion track and some soft synth pads which carry on tediously for 5 straight minutes. Eventually there are also some suspense cues like Fear in the jungle which quotes the main theme briefly but then turns into a synth pad stinger and Hiding in the jungle with more tribal percussion.

The boy & the lion is a nostalgic trip through 70s melodies and 90s TV score arrangements, an obscure combination with little to no relevance to the assumed subject matter. Nevertheless I hope Cipriani keeps making this kind of music since his own unique voice still shines through after decades of marvellous scores. For a better listening experience I would rearrange the cues and perhaps cut some of the purely string versions which aren’t as good as the ones with finalized orchestrations.

Rating: ****

1. The boy & the lion (02:58) ****
2. The boy & the lion (Alternative version 1) (01:19) ****
3. The boy & the lion (Alternative version 2) (01:19) ***
4. The boy & the lion (Alternative version 3) (01:08) *****
5. The boy & the lion (Alternative version 4) (01:09) *****
6. The boy & the lion (Alternative version 5) (01:37) ***
7. The boy & the lion (Alternative version 6) (01:20) *****
8. The boy & the lion (Alternative version 7) (01:20) ****
9. The boy & the lion (Alternative version 8) (02:51) *****
10. The boy & the lion (Strings version 1) (01:08) ****
11. The boy & the lion (Strings version 2) (01:20) ****
12. The boy & the lion (Strings version 3) (02:55) ****
13. The boy & the lion (Strings version 4) (02:51) ***
14. The boy & the lion (Piano version) (01:19) ****
15. Lion's waltz (01:43) ****
16. Lion's waltz (Alternative version 1) (00:44) ***
17. Lion's waltz (Alternative version 2) (00:44) ****
18. Lion's waltz (Strings version) (01:43) ****
19. Running (02:04) *****
20. Running (Alternative version) (02:03) ****
21. Playing in the sun (01:11) ****
22. Playing in the sun (Alternative version) (01:10)  ***
23. Jungle life (05:03) ****
24. Jungle life (Alternative version) (05:02) **
25. Animal's march (01:38) ***
26. Animal's march (Alternative version) (01:38) ***
27. Innocent joy (02:54) ****
28. Fear in the jungle (01:23) ****
29. Hiding in the jungle (01:29) ***
30. Threat in the jungle (01:26) **
31. Goodbye my friend (02:05) ****
32. Across the land (03:06) *****

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