Romeo and Juliet (Abel Korzeniowski)
ROMEO & JULIET
Abel Korzeniowski, 2013, Relativity Music
16 tracks, 50:41
“Did my heart love till now? forswear it, ears! For I ne’er heard true beauty till this night.”
Review by Pete Simons
What is it?
“For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Well… a certain composer might disagree, but I digress.
Directed by Carlo Carlei “Romeo & Juliet” stars Douglas Booth and Hailee Seinfeld in this, yet another, retelling of the classic love story by the British bard William Shakespeare. The screenplay is by Julian Fellowes of “Downtown Abbey” fame. The film’s release was marred by issues and, so far, reviews of it have not been great. One victim of those issues is composer James Horner, whose fully recorded score ended up being rejected. Abel Korzeniowski (“Copernicus’ Star”, “Escape from Tomorrow”) was brought in at the eleventh hour (hey, what else is new) to write the replacement. Whilst it must be a nightmare-scenario for a composer to come in at such a late stage, with pressure having mounted to intolerable heights, it has frequently spurred composers on to produce some of their finest works. Horner’s own “Aliens” and Elliot Goldenthal’s “Interview with the Vampire” are but two examples that come to mind. Oh… and Korzeniowski’s “Romeo & Juliet”!
What does it sound like?
I already indicated that “Romeo & Juliet” is a classic tale that has been told many times before, in many different guises. There is the Franco Zeffirelli film from 1968, with a score by Nino Rota; the modernised Baz Luhrman version from 1996, which saw Craig Armstrong write one of his finest (and one of my personal favorite) cues: “Balcony Scene”. Not to mention Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet. Each of those composers took their own approach to the subject; and rightfully so! Korzeniowski seems allowed to do just that. The Polish-born composer is known for a lush, yet minimal style and he employs it to great effect in this score.
Opening with “Juliet’s Dream”, the album clearly carries its heart on its sleeve. A staccato string pattern accompanies a beautiful, wavering melody for piano (the triplets being a genius touch). It’s a little more modern than one might expect. There is a sense of Phillip Glass or Michael Nyman about the straightforwardness of the composition. The modulating nature of the strings is mesmerising; if not hypnotising,
“Forbidden Love” continues the see-sawing movements and overlays them with a lusher, more traditional theme for strings; emphasising solo violin (and possibly viola). Brass- and percussive swells add a sense of drama and urgency. “Queen Mab” opens with a variation on the piano play from “Juliet’s Dream”. The performance is so delicate, as if fingers are barely touching the keys. It vaguely recalled memories of Danny Elfman’s “Corpse Bride”. About half way in, Korzeniowski switches to an alternate theme; one ever so delicate and full of beauty – I could listen to this forever on repeat!
“The Cheek of Night” starts with a modulating cello pattern – it is clear by now that most (if not all) of the score will be carried by this type of writing. Soon a female soprano comes in to perform a brief staccato motif. A comparison to James Horner’s “A Beautiful Mind” is virtually unavoidable (…see, unavoidable). The track continues in a quasi classical fashion (reminding me a little of Francis Lai), with a triplet for strings seemingly mirroring the piano writing of “Juliet’s Dream”.
We’ll all remember the rush we felt during our first kiss and “First Kiss” seems to emulate that by ever-so-slightly playing with the tempo. It caught me off-guard at first, but it’s a neat little trick. “Trooping with Crows” sees strings and piano move through various chords, almost as if it’s a musical exercise. Triplets again livening up the proceedings. “A Thousand Times Good Night” repeats the opening from “Queen Mab”, albeit in a different, slightly more subdued key. The “Forbidden Love”-theme also returns; first on flute over tremolo strings, then on solo viola (sounding a little more mournful than a violin would’ve done) over a bed of slow chords. The cue livens up a little towards the end. This is the stuff that goosebumps are made from!
“Come, Gentle Night” feels a little more urgent with its virtuoso piano play, similar to the instrument’s use in Korzeniowski’s “Escape from Tomorrow”. Piano and glockenspiel create a suitably ‘twinkly’ atmosphere in “Wedding Vows”. When the soprano returns to sing the “Forbidden Love” theme, and the strings and brass swell, this is a jubilant as the score gets. Dark, menacing chords interrupt the romance, telling us that not all is well though. “Fortune’s Fool” continues with menacing ‘action’ music, before turning sorrowful. “From Ancient Grudge” once more picks up the pace with racing strings and piano, accompanied by brass crescendos.
The second half of “Queen Mab” is one of my favorite parts of the score so far, and it’s repeated in “Death is my Heir”. For me it rivals Craig Armstrong’s “Balcony Scene”… and that is no small feat! “Tempt not a Desperate Man” combines fast, almost playful, strings and glockenspiel with dramatic writing for horns. Again, it’s a track of two halves, with the second being slower and considerably more sinister than the first.
“The Crypt”, both parts, are utterly moving; conveying a sense of loss and love. Interestingly, the composer chooses not to (or barely) use the piano in these cues. It’s a clever move! With the piano dominating the score up to this point, its sudden absence packs quite a dramatic punch. Slow strings, solo violin and choir come together to perform a heartbreaking rendition of the “Forbidden Love” theme. These two cue form the absolute highlight of the score. Now, I don’t’t want to compare this score to ‘what James Horner might have done’, because it’d be unfair and mostly pointless as Korzeniowski writes in a very different style. Having said that, and with all due respect, these two cues (and the next) are probably as close to ‘wJHmhd’ as it gets.
The album concludes with “Eternal Love” for orchestra, piano, soprano and choir. Did I mention goosebumps? This cue proves that, when used sparingly, a choir is still a massively powerful instrument. My sole contend being the slightly abrupt ending. And I wouldn’t have minded hearing a reprise of “Juliet’s Dream” to round off the album.
Is it any good?
It’s worth baring in mind that Korzeniowski is – at the risk of using the phrase incorrectly – quite a minimal composer. His strength lies in minimalistic movements, sparse orchestrations; whilst relying on the themes to carry the emotion. In that sense I think he resembles the aforementioned Michael Nyman. I have seen a few (though, very few) disappointed reactions to this score and I can only imagine that those people were expecting a grander, more stately affair.
There is a certain directness about this score, with its moderate orchestrations and uncomplicated themes, that aims straight for the heart. There is beauty in (and through) modesty. Admittedly though, on a few occasions I too wished that the score would take off a little more than it does; or that the orchestrations were a tad more varied. For me, it stops just short of being a masterpiece. Having said that, without even having to resort to using the ‘difficult scoring situation’ as an excuse, Korzeniowski has delivered a richly melodic work full of romance, pathos and sorrow. Certainly one of this year’s very best, incidentally alongside “Escape from Tomorrow” by Abel Korzeniowski. Coincidence? I think not.
01. Juliet’s Dream (3:43)
02. Forbidden Love (2:59)
03. Queen Mab (2:28)
04. The Cheek of Night (2:26)
05. First Kiss (2:21)
06. Trooping With Crows (3:04)
07. A Thousand Times Good Night (6:51)
08. Come, Gentle Night (2:31)
09. Wedding Vows (2:51)
10. Fortune’s Fool (4:01)
11. From Ancient Grudge (1:12)
12. Death Is My Heir (1:34)
13. Tempt Not a Desperate Man (3:08)
14. The Crypt, Part 1 (5:09)
15. The Crypt, Part 2 (4:18)
16. Eternal Love (2:05)
Physically and digitally.