Master and Commander - Far Side of the World by Christopher Gordon, Iva Davies, Richard Tognetti available at Varese Sarabande.com

 

 

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Master and Commander - Far Side of the World (Soundtrack) by Christopher Gordon, Iva Davies, Richard Tognetti

"Short of Masterful, Far from Expected"
Review by Matt Peterson

 

Master and Commander - Far Side of the World (Soundtrack) by Christopher Gordon, Iva Davies, Richard Tognetti

Master and Commander -
Far Side of the World

6/10

Master and Commander - Far Side of the World (Soundtrack) by Christopher Gordon, Iva Davies, Richard Tognetti

Christopher Gordon
Composer 
Christopher Gordon

Iva Davies
Iva Davies

Richard Tognetti
Richard Tognetti


 

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Category    Score

Originality 7
Music Selection 6
Composition 5
CD Length 7
Track Order 6
Performance 7
Final Score 6/10
 


 

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"
The music has a touching depth that has a primeval feel at one with sea, a feeling which makes the score stands out as brave attempt not to follow a predictable format." ***.5

Andrew Keech -
Music from the Movies Reviews Master and Commander - Far Side of the World
 

 

 

Composed, Orchestrated and Produced by
Christopher Gordon, Iva Davies, Richard Tognetti
Performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony;
Michael Fisher (Featured percussionist)
Released by Decca Records on November 11, 2003

Acclaimed Australian director Peter Weir returns to the box office with Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, based on the popular series of novels by Patrick O’Brien. Hailed as “Gladiator on the high seas!” (an odd comparison), Russell Crowe plays Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey, master and commander of the HMS Surprise. Set in 1805, when Napoleon’s forces dominated Europe, the film depicts an engaging cat and mouse game between the Surprise and a larger, more heavily armed French vessel, bent on “bringing the war” to the Pacific. Charged to defend England on the high seas, Crowe and his men must seek and destroy the French foe. Along the way, the men battle not only a gigantic, wooden man of war, but their own superstitions, failings, and even discover a realm of natural, unseen wonders.

The film marks yet another return to the Hollywood subjects of old, infused with modern sensibilities, including the advanced VFX we have come to expect. Compared to Jaws by many, the film takes a smart approach, enshrouding the intimidating enemy vessel in a haze of mystery—until the very end, we only see her captain through the hazy magnification of a telescope. As a film, Master and Commander excels. It is rare to find a modern, big budget film that takes the time to develop distinct characters, and explore the human effects of the events depicted. As the most recent chapter of the Matrix has proven, ideas and characters can easily get lost in a maelstrom of visual effects, and action set pieces. At a running time of 140 minutes, Master and Commander contains only two battle sequences. This may seem sparse. However, superb acting, direction, and writing makes the film seem lean, and well balanced. This is the year’s best film to date.

How does the score stack up against all the other superb aspects of Master and Commander? Well, in a word, it pales in comparison, yet doesn’t completely fail. For a film of this genre, one may expect brassy, well defined themes and adventurous orchestral bombast in the vein of Korngold. One may even assume Weir would charge Maurice Jarre with scoring duties—a legendary, epic composer who worked with the director on Witness. However, Weir took a turn from the expected, and assembled a team of three Australian musicians: Ira Davies, a well known songwriter, Christopher Gordon, a composer who has orchestrated several scores, and Richard Tognetti, an acclaimed violinist. This seems like an odd choice—how can these three distinct styles co-exist?

Music is a central voice in Master and Commander, dividing into two types: Score and source cues. The hour long album is divided evenly between the two. The source cues feature some excellent performances by Tognetti, and even Yo-Yo Ma. There are several scenes depicting the Captain and first officer (played by Paul Bettany) playing classical duets on violin and cello. These are great scenes that effectively communicate the deep friendship between the two men, despite their differences. Crowe worked many long hours with Tognetti to perfect his “playing” of the violin. For a man who had never picked up the instrument before making the film, he does an admiral job of faking mastery. These source pieces blend beautifully into the film, providing a nice, period sound. The cues range from the Baroque of Bach, to a gorgeous rendition of Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme.” These pieces are well represented on the album, but at times, some of the more ethnic, traditional pieces become a bit grating.

Now, on to the score itself. As I pointed out, the score is far from expected. You’ll hear no defined, recurring themes or brassy, heroic cues. Instead, the composers focus on providing an ethereal mood and atmosphere to accompany the events on screen. The score is very percussive, depending on a large taiko drum ensemble, and electronic, ghoul-like tones. At times, a frantic rising and falling string underscore will joint the drums, along with singular brass tones that crescendo and fall away, similar to Don Davis’s openings for the Matrix films. The first track, “The Far Side of the World,” Track 1 is a comprehensive sampling of everything the score has to offer. It is the best score track on the album, and at the same time, the most frustrating. This track is really the only track that offers a glimmer of potential, never to be heard again. It is composed of several portions of score slapped together, with little sense of direction. The track ends with an engaging, singular pizzacatti fiddle that jumps octaves, and creates a nice element that is used at various points in the film. The track ends with a more traditional sounding string tune, bringing the listener through every type of music heard in the film. It’s too bad the rest of the score did not have this range. The other tracks fall into a solely atmospheric mode—drums beat, synthesized tones meander, and themes are non existent. “The Battle” features taikos and a lone flute-like instrument to the point of nausea, while “The Galapagos” provides some nice, mysterious tones. Much of “The Phasmid” is simply a singular drawn out note that crescendos, creating suspense. Overall, the score feels quite thin and ill defined. It took three composers to come up with this?

Considering these distinct styles, how does the album flow? On album, score and source cues are interspersed. This seems like a necessary step. If all the score cues were put back to back, there would be little variety, and the listener would not be engaged. Even though interspersing score with source is the right move here, it can make for a choppy listen. Even the well chosen source cues cannot save the score, or the album.

Despite the score’s weakness, it works in the film. Many scenes are accentuated effectively by the ethereal and primal nature of the score. Much of the repetitive action music is buried in sound effects; A blessing in disguise? Perhaps. Combined with the excellent source cues, the two manage to co-exist well enough to provide the film with a passable musical accompaniment. However, I still find myself thirsting for a heroic, defined theme that could be characterized with Aubrey’s vessel, and another for his foe. Does anyone remember Jaws?

Before I can recommend the score, I must recommend seeing the film first. The key to enjoying the music of Master and Commander is knowing the context of the music, and remembering the amazing images that flash across the screen. This is unconventional score, but just because it’s different or unexpected doesn’t necessarily mean it’s horrible. After I saw the film, the score immediately became more enjoyable. Even after considering the score in its cinematic context, it is not as strong as it could be, or even should be.


Track Listing and Ratings

 Track

Title Time

 Rating

1 The Far Side of the WorldTrack 1 9:19  ****
2 Into the Fog 2:12  ***
3 Violin Concerto No. 3 "Straussburg" K.215, 3rd Movement
  - W. A. Mozart
1:19  ****
4 The Cuckold Comes Out of the Amery - Traditional 3:27  ***
5 Smoke N' Oakum 5:27  ***
6  Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis - Ralph Vaughn WilliamsTrack 6 5:14  ****
7 Adagio from Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 8 in G Minor,
"Christmas Concerto" - Arcangelo Corelli
1:56  ****
8 The Doldrums 2:46  **
9 Prelude from the Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major,
BWV 1007 - J. S. Bach
2:28  ****
10 The Galapagos 1:39  ***
11 Folk Medley: O'Sullivan's March, Cuckold Comes Out of the Amery,
Mother Hen, Mary Scott, Nancy Dawson - Traditional
5:12  ***
12 The Phasmid 2:34  **
13 The Battle 5:07  **
14 Boccherini La Musica Notturna Delle Strade di Madrid,
No. 6, Op. 30 (String Quintet in C) - Luigi Boccherini
9:23  ****
15 Full Circle (w/ dialogue) 1:34  **
 

Total Running Time

59:49  

Master and Commander - Far Side of the World (Soundtrack) by Christopher Gordon, Iva Davies, Richard Tognetti

*The Experience-O-Meter displays the track to track listening experience of this soundtrack based on the 5-Star rating given to each track.  It provides a visual depiction of the ebbs and flows of the CD's presentation of the soundtrack.

 

Referenced Reviews
  Jaws

 

 

 

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