Monday, 23 March 2015

CINDERELLA Score Review

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
Check it out... if you have had doubts in the past as to whether or not you favour the style of Patrick Doyle, Cinderella being a score which will most likely cement your opinion in the approval ranges

Skip it... if even a hint of over-sentimentality is off-putting to your ears, Doyle often evoking excessive emotion even in the best of instances
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

"Doyle approaches the album with a sincerity that is sorely lost within many scores nowadays, and his classical approach to the composition resonates heartily with the tone he undertakes."

2014's Kenneth Branagh adaptation of the classic 1950's Disney film Cinderella (which in-turn is an adaptation of a centuries-old folk story) was regarded with little excitement upon the release of its first trailer. Anticipation was scattered, with some initially resenting the concept of remaking such a pivotal and astonishing story yet again, others expressing immense elation at the prospect of returning to an age-old world full of familiar and homely characters. To add to the worries felt by many, the use of music within the preliminary trailers did naught to settle the hearts of either score-lovers nor the mainstream, Audiomachine utilized to convey little more than generic flourishes and beats. It all felt rather "been-there, done-that". That said, the film garnered a great response from critics just prior to being released into cinemas, and with the financial forecast hinting towards a fantastic box-office response, many were primed for Disney's hottest commodity of the year. And surprisingly, despite the overfamiliar ingredients that populate the title, it remarked well upon both the public and analytical circles and grossed an exceptional $70 million upon opening weekend within the United States. It's obvious that the story of Cinderella, however overplayed it is, still holds great value for those who appreciate Disney's more sentimental roots. Despite the more volatile internet feminists causing an uproar due to the story's supposed sexism, the vast majority should find much to appreciate within this whimsical tale that provides the message that to achieve great things, one must work to the best of their ability, despite the situation they are dealt. If that is not an acceptable metaphor for any younger viewer, I honestly don't know what is.

In terms of musical accompaniment (I'm speaking in terms of personal experience in this one case), the original Cinderella feature possessed a score and soundtrack that has not carried through the ages. Perhaps it is that I have not been exposed to the film for a good while now and my memory of the musical efforts involved have strayed. All the same, I have not once heard any associates, friends, family or acquaintances ever utter either the words of a song from the picture nor hum a theme that originates from the film, so I believe I am safe in saying that it most certainly did not leave a mark on me. Perhaps when the Legacy Collection album is released later this year, I shall delve into its midsts; for the time being, I am content with having not heard it explicitly. Perhaps this is a good thing, as my expectations for Patrick Doyle's latest foray into the Disney canon were lowered substantially due to this fact. That said, even if one does possess a fondness for the original recordings, I would find it hard to believe that little enjoyment could be derived from this splendidly conceived collation of romance, detriment, emotion, quirk and swell. Cinderella never feels truly distinct (as is an issue I have continually remarked upon during many of this year's reviews), but what it lacks in sheer individuality it makes up for in style, the bravado and confidence of Doyle's compositions never to be taken for granted. Whether one is an advocated fan of the man's prior work, or possesses but a slim knowledge of his previous releases, there is a great deal to appreciate here, both technically speaking as well as evocatively. 

Doyle approaches the album with a sincerity that is sorely lost within many scores nowadays, and his classical approach to the composition resonates heartily with the tone he undertakes. He infuses a genuine love and sentimentality to the recording, every performance from either instrumentalist or vocalist full of passion. His thematic material is bold and fluid, though curtailed when truly required. His handling of all areas in regards to the orchestra delivers a balanced palette that never overwhelms one specific section, nor underplays the spread of its capacity. Technically speaking, Cinderella is one of Doyle's most accomplished work, his complexity initially obscured by the versatile and sheer merriment which captures a listener in its grasp from the onset of the duration. 'A Golden Childhood' presents us with a multitude of varied thematic concepts, the first of which being six notes in length and performed on a variety of string, woodwind and brass instruments, revealed in the opening twenty seconds that captures the glorious size and glee of the endeavour. It's hard not to be seized by the gusto observed throughout the cue's entirety, Doyle obviously dedicated to the world he is producing on a musical front. In this same cue, a happier and more jubilant piano and light percussion melody enters the forefront, as well as a hinting towards a more overarching leitmotif that becomes far more prominent within the subsequent offering, 'The Great Secret'. More sinister ideas arrive at the forefront as Cinderella enters her life as a mistreated servant under the vindictive eye of her new step-mother, as well as her self-righteous step-sisters; 'A New Family' initially presents a happier titular motif, before the clarinets and plucked strings revert to a far more sombre tone, making way for a dark and mysterious cello and vocal offering, somewhat reminiscent of the soaring gloom that encompassed the duration of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. 'Tis a bold comparison, but one I contain no reservations about. 

The score undertakes both waltzes of splendour and class as well as more traditional compositional methods, Doyle's wide compatibility with a number of varied genres on show here for any doubters of his craft. He does not offer anything resoundingly peculiar, though perhaps this is due to the constraints measured by the subject matter, the opportunities for invention and experimentation marginal in quantity. That does not necessarily relegate Cinderella to a state of perpetual indistinctness, its vibrant and flourishing melodies proving aptly satisfying for its elongated period. On that note, one has to discuss the length of the album, which even after taking into consideration the lengths of the instrumentals for the songs provided at the end of the track listing, is still rather extensive; the duration of the release tallies to nearly an hour and a half on the digital copies. It does not degrade the enjoyment one will find with the album though, the score remaining consistent in its mood and tone, yet still providing enough development and variation over its span to prove a worthwhile venture. For those who possess skepticism in regards to the necessity for such a voluminous release, I can assure you that every moment is tackled with a sufficient amount of enthusiasm, Doyle's eagerness evident constantly. 

The first half of the score concerns itself with providing the origins for many of the aforementioned leitmotific concepts, whilst the second portion dedicates much of its time towards bouncing and eccentric waltzes, all of which are as pleasant as they are welcome. 'Life and Laughter' is the first installment in this plethora of pieces, rich in warmth and love. It's clear from this single piece alone how much passion is exerted from Doyle's end, the bouncy energy never tiring (I know the piece is short, but it maintains one's interests all the same). 'Valse Royale' continues the waltzes, before a series of 'La Polka...' and 'La Valse...' pieces surge in and invade the party, all of them competent, ravishing and beautiful inclusions. That said, they do seem to stilt the carefully constructed flow of the entire endeavour, and whilst a number of them seem to add to the narrative that Doyle so expertly constructs and weaves together, namely 'La Polka de Miniuit', a fantastic chase cue, many of them feel somewhat out of place in-and-amongst such an evocative piece of music. They are undoubtedly enjoyable, but their odd placement, especially as the score begins to ascend to its more frantic and frenetic of instances, proves both cumbersome and partially questionable. 

Glorious triumph and romance are very much the key components explored within Cinderella, Doyle exhibiting a wide range of both subtle, tender and heartfelt melodies that add to the sweeping drama of the album. To not get wrapped up in the elegance and height of pieces of the likes of 'Who Is She' or 'Courage and Kindness' is a disservice to the effort provided by Doyle and his collaborators. But one does not wholly deserve praise for the glorious highlights if the build-up and groundwork does not elicit a strong response as well; fortunately, the composer's work remains strong enough throughout to erode any dissatisfaction one would otherwise be exposed to. Many shall claim (namely the mainstream) that the blatant schmaltz of the entire venture is unduly sentimental and overwhelming, but I'd be as bold to say that they are completely and utterly incorrect in their presumptions. Deceptively simplistic on its surface, the underlying intricacy and technical finesse of Cinderella is not to be exempt from acclaim. The bass and treble is surprisingly harmonious, Doyle never discounting the lower regions of his orchestra. Providing the substantiation behind many of the greatest moments in the score is the swelling and hearty exuberance of the cello portion of the orchestra; alongside such is the brass, which is initially gifted a far less dominant role, before being urged to the foreground of the recording. None of the bass elements overpower the wistful higher register instruments, but they add a necessary undercurrent that furthers the engrossing quality of the score. 

It is true that Doyle, for the most part, focuses on developing Cinderella as a character and keeps away from applying more forceful compositions. That said, when faster material is required of him, the man is more than willing to provide it in spades. We are delivered our first batch of such during 'The Stag', a surprisingly versatile and engaging cue which features all manners of instrumentation, from flute trills, to trumpet and horn fanfares, to orchestral crescendos which climax in tremendously satisfying installments. Pair these features alongside a romantic section devoted to developing the motif between Prince Charming and Cinderella; what is initially a brass ostinato that develops into a combined performance, and what you have is one of the finest pieces of the new year. Doyle returns to his faster and more vehement paces during 'Pumpkins and Mice', 'La Polka de Minuit', 'Choose That One' and 'Pumpkin Pursuit', the latter-most cue proving to be one of the score's most nimble inclusions, Doyle upping the ante in regards to all areas of the orchestra; the counterpoints made by the strings against the heavy and cumbersome brass is gorgeous, and the wonderful utilization of marimba, xylophone and more metallic percussion adds another element to the insane ardour of the entire effort. The music accelerates in tempo accordingly throughout its somewhat brief two and a half minutes, Doyle applying force to all of his orchestration to maximize impact. One can only guess that the result in context is a wonderful collation of peril, and outside of such, it serves as another stand-out.      

There are few mistakes made by either Doyle in terms of his writing, the mixing team nor the orchestra; the only two distinct qualms I have are both extremely minor, a sharp and odd note played by a violin within 'Life and Laughter' at 0:52, as well as a pair of out of sync strings during 'Nice and Airy' at 0:24 (though this latter "mistake" may very well be intentional on Doyle's part). The rest of the recording is overtly good, size and vibrance applied to give the score a large-ness that engrosses one from beginning to end. Very little of the score suffers from any concerns in regards to downtime between cues, and the mixing suitably equalizes both lesser and more pronounced moments to form a coherent listening experience that requires little effort to enjoy. One also has to award commendation for the focus applied towards the flute, plucked strings, marimba and piano sections of the recording, Doyle maximizing their prominence to provide a far more jaunty and lively effect. In an age of composition which rarely relies on the woodwind and percussion portions to exert emotion (there are certainly exceptions, Disney's own musical canon providing a number of them), Doyle's efforts are as refreshing as they are alluring.

Whereas with my previous review, Chappie, I failed to illicit an understanding of the reasoning provided by those who did enjoy the release, I can somewhat accept other's qualms with Cinderella; I can recognise that there is a slimmer of mawkishness that seeps in during rare fragments, and for many, these may detract from the experience vastly. In terms of flow, many are correct in their presumptions that the score is oft-times uneven, the waltzes halting the carefully arranged emotional development of the album. That said, few can doubt that what Doyle has offered is a gorgeously conceived romp, fit with a plethora of affecting leitmotifs, engaging action sequences, instrumental variation, tonal depth and technical avidity. It takes me from my desktop seat and transports me to the depths of a world full of magic, forests, large-scale balls and Robb Sta--I mean Princes! Doyle's attention to detail is appreciable in the most profound of faster segments, but it's also his ability to refrain from overkill and allow cadenza's which proclaim the full capacity of his arrangements that make this such a personal and wonderful victory. Cinderella provokes a sentimentality that, whilst not as inventive nor as varied as James Newton Howard's work for the previous major live-action Disney release, Maleficent, is as welcome and touching as anything I've heard as of recently (part Wolf Totem, because James Horner sets the bar in terms of affettuoso). A gushing and easily accessible score that presents some of the finest material in Patrick Doyle's illustrious career; a definite recommendation! You can purchase Cinderella on Amazon or iTunes, here and here.   

8.5

Additional notes about release: digital copies of the score offer instrumentals for the three songs provided on the album ('Strong', 'A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes' and 'Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo').