Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Liberator Score Review

Check it out... if you desire a well constructed and thematically varied piece of composition by a first time composer in this area of music

Skip it... if a consistent tone, fit with woodwinds and dark strings all throughout doesn't appeal to your tastes

"After the drivel that I've been exposed to for the past few weeks, The Liberator is most certainly refreshing and welcome"

Considering how vastly impressive the life of esteemed revolutionary and liberator Simon Bolivar is, one would assume that Hollywood would quickly and surely make use of such a varied and uplifting story, adapting it for cinematic enjoyment. Alas, Bolivar's life has only been made fit for the big screen but once before, that being in the form of a Spanish drama film directed by Alessandro Blasetti, released in the year 1969. First of all, yes, I am going to refrain from making an inappropriate joke in relation to that year, despite my age. Secondly, that seems like an awfully long time ago, and for only one film to have been made about this astounding man's life story doesn't seem right, considering how much good he did in a number of different countries. Fortunately for all those who have craved a proper, well executed screen representation of Bolivar's story, director Alberto Arvelo's The Liberator should satisfy greatly. The film tells the life story of Bolivar, and recounts a number of his political tribulations, as well as some of the battles he faced against the Spanish Empire. With an estimated budget of $50,000,000, it appears Bolivar is finally getting a well-rounded motion picture dedicated to his mission and life, which is something many have undoubtedly pleased with. Composing the score for the film is Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel, who was originally hired by Arvelo for musical consultation in relation to the scoring for the film, though later became involved in the direct composition of the music itself; thus The Liberator proves to be Dudamel's first venture into musical composition for an entertainment medium as this, something the man has consistently remarked about during interviews for the film as something that he shan't do again any time into the future. Taking on advice from famed friend John Williams, Dudamel's debut has been anticipated by a number of members of the scoring community (this not including myself, considering this is the first time I've heard of the man), and so I'm glad to report on the results of his efforts.

Before either acclaiming or dismissing Dudamel's compositional efforts, one must first take into consideration that this is the composer's first film score; and whilst there are no overtly amateuristic mistakes conducted within The Liberator, one must be open-minded in regards to how much they enjoy the score. First time composition for any medium of entertainment is indeed an incredibly difficult challenge to face for any composer, and I'd say nearly every composer of high prestige would attest to this statement. Nevertheless, as a first time composition, Dudamel's efforts are exceptionally well presented, and amass for a thoroughly enjoyable album full of various influences and sounds. Dudamel seems to have taken inspiration from a number of highly acclaimed composers, ranging from Ennio Morricone, to James Horner, to even Hans Zimmer (though one could argue that this influence be accredited to the aforementioned composers as well), though all the whilst constructing a style and pace all of his own, which is something few first time film composers can claim of doing in their initial work. All the fundamental components that are required of a score can be examined within The Liberator, all constructed to a relatively high standard, these including a consistent tone all throughout; a great quantity of thematic concepts and identities on display; varied instrumentation, all of which is orchestral; insistent but patient pacing, and a great use of an assortment of different phrases and motifs. And whilst there is perhaps a little too many overtly sombre string motifs in play (didn't you just praise the consistent tone of the score?) The Liberator in it's entirety is an incredibly complex and enjoyable album, featuring some of the finest Spanish-themed instrumentation of the year.

The primary and initial theme for the score, introduced in the cue 'Quien Puede Detener la Lluvia?', is a wonderful 6 note horn theme, both aggressive and heroic in it's build up and climax thanks to some dramatic and beautiful flutes, guitar and string runs. A wonderful bongo riff in the background of the main motif also comes into fruition as the piece begins to crescendo to it's absolutely splendid horn introduction. The cue starts off with an assortment of slow flute phrases, reminiscent immediately, at least to my ears, of Hans Zimmer's exceptionally well crafted The Last Samurai, released in 2003. The strong string and woodwind reliance all throughout the score lends credence to this comparison. Soon, the cue begins to explode into the aforementioned string runs and horn motif, and the excitement is at a peak. It's a wonderful theme of epic proportions, and leads the way for the rest of the score to follow. Other themes arrive in cues shortly after, including the second cue on the album, 'El 25 de septiembre de 1828', which showcases a number of concepts, tones and themes, including a snare drum riff (which appears to represent marching or an army), the guitar and flute interplay which becomes a constant during the running time of the entire score, a main string phrase, and another wonderful brass theme that plays over the top of bongos and other percussive instruments towards the end of the piece. It's a surprising quantity of variety that Dudamel enacts throughout this individual cue alone, utilizing instruments that are both contemporary for a Western audience, and others which are far more Spanish/Venezuelan in origin and relation. He explores techniques and compositional concepts such as these often throughout The Liberator, and for those who may be interested in hearing a diverse range of instruments synonymous with early 19th century South American influences and locations (that is rather specific, isn't it?), this is a score of which you should be interested in and impressed by. More thematic ideas alongside quirky and unique instrumentation and phrases are heard in cues shortly after, with the sombre tone that is established in the first 4 cues and showcased most prominently within the emotionally taxing 'María Teresa' traded in for the lighter and far more enjoyable string staccatos and pan flute trills of the cue 'París', all light in tone. Whilst the emotional opening is handled often with a great amount of care and artistry, it can become quite monotonous, and even slightly unsatisfying. Whilst the previously mentioned 'María Teresa' certainly carries a great deal of emotion in it's nearly 7 minute length, it does often slow to an unbearable pace, leaving me unsatisfied in it's inevitable climax. Do not mistake me; it's certainly not a poor cue that should not be awarded a large amount of merit. The themes introduced and elaborated upon within the cue are all executed with beauty and grace not so often seen within film composition, from 4 note violin motifs, to flute and guitar phrases. It's just perhaps the lack of energy that is sustained over the 7 minute duration that ignites a small portion of disappointment. 

Nevertheless, as was discussed before, the cue 'París' sees the tone jump slowly but surely into a far more joyous one, and this continues on into the next cue, 'Fanny du Villars', though to a lesser extent. Slow and beautiful, the piece revolves around the interactions between an oboe and flute, this making for one of the finest cues on the album, however short. The music reignites shortly after, in arguably my favourite piece of the album, 'Destierro a Cartagena', which using instruments such as bass drum, wooden flutes and plucked strings, manages to evoke a sense of the jungle; the cue genuinely feels as if it's being recorded in a jungle setting, thanks to the height and scope of the instrumentation (and the reverberation of the recording). When the cue explodes into a fit of action splendor, accented by brutal and effective wooden percussion, the piece officially ticks all the boxes. As the music continues on throughout the score, the themes and ideas introduced in this assortment of cues really hold the key for the rest of the release, with everything else seeming to be an offshoot from something previously established. Reprisals are often subtle but noticeable, and the tone from then on becomes consistent throughout. The only major change in instrumentation or mood within the latter half of the running time is primarily seen throughout the cues 'El paso de Los Andes' and 'Ellos están con nosotros', as a choir comes into play. Whilst choral activity should be able to be noted by even casual listeners early on in the score, it's most notable and easily accessible usages come in the cues just now mentioned. 'El paso de Los Andes' sees the choral theme introduced partway through the relatively long passage of music. During 'Ellos están con nosotros' though, the choir stands on it's own for the first 2 minutes of the 3 and a half minute long cue, reprising the theme in spectacular form. This kind of wonderful variation helps to keep the listener engaged, even if one may be slightly irritated by any repetition occurring. 

Fortunately, repetition is not all that common throughout; it's more so the previously mentioned consistency in tone and sound that may give off the vibe that one is hearing something they've heard before. These aren't necessarily bad things; actually, more the opposite. To see a score with a clearly defined soundscape that doesn't sound like complete crap, after scores like No Good Deed, Houdini and The Knick is somewhat refreshing, and for one with as foreign an identity as this, it's quite refreshing. I feel I can recommend this to a great deal of listeners, due to it's easily accessible instrumentation and general composition, and those of whom it's obviously influenced by; the previously mentioned Williams, Horner and Morricone influences are immediately obvious, and various portions of the score have clear reminiscence to Zimmer's The Last Samurai, as I've made note of earlier. I even found some resemblance to Fernando Velazquez's work for The Impossible within the cues 'Muere el Mariscal' and 'Maria Teresa's Farewell (Bonus Track)'. For fans of any of those composers (which would suggest nearly everyone visiting this site), this music should certainly be on your 'to listen to' list. It's not the most overtly intuitive album I've listened to recently, but after the drivel that I've been exposed to for the past few weeks, and that of which I'm to be listening to in the very near future (Gone Girl), this is most certainly refreshing and welcome. I truly hope Dudamel gets another opportunity to showcase his skills in the area of musical composition for film, because he is exceptionally talented. You can purchase The Liberator on Amazon and iTunes, here and here


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