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Joanna Lumley’s Transsiberian Adventure (Miguel D’Oliveira)

August 2, 2015

Cover_TranssiberianAdventureJOANNA LUMLEY’S TRANSSIBERIAN ADVENTURE

Miguel D’Oliveira, 2015, Movie Score Media
9 tracks, 20:01

Joanna Lumley took us on a wonderful journey through Asia and Russia. Now we can re-live that journey with a slick, if short soundtrack release.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

This 3-part series follows British actress Joanna Lumley (of Absolutely Fabulous fame) on a railway trip from Hong Kong to Moscow through China, Mongolia and Russia. During her trip, Joanna revisits her childhood home where her father was stationed, then she travels thousands of miles, visits the obligatory tourist sites (such as the Great Wall of China) and also makes a few unusual stops (such as meeting a shaman in Mongolia).

Following his graduation from medical school, composer Miguel d’Oliveira taught himself music and became a multi-instrumentalist playing in several ethnic and jazz bands as well as symphonic orchestras. After scoring his first short for a film school graduate, he completed an MA in Composition for Film at the National Film and Television School. The composer’s credits include the horror film “The Toybox” (2005) and documentaries on numerous interesting subjects such as “The Bible: A History” (2010), “The Viking Sagas” (2011), “The Ground Zero Mosque” (2011) and “The American Road Trip: Obama’s Story” (2012).

What does it sound like?

The album opens with the show’s main title “Once in a Lifetime”, a simple but lush melody with a real travelling atmosphere (courtesy of the string and harp arpeggios that seem to represent the railway journey). Towards the end, the cue takes on a Nymanesque sound through an undulating oboe.

“Breathtaking Scenery” is a playful (almost childlike) cue for plucked strings, winds and various other instruments. A Thomas Newmanesque ‘rhythm’ for strings, bells and light percussion sets the pace in “And So It Begins”, which momentarily feels quite grand, but never overwhelming. Towards the end, there is more of the playful music that graced the previous cue (different melody, but similar style).

Early on this project, director Michael Waldman and I decided that, instead of emulating all the musical idiosyncrasies of the vastly different countries and territories Joanna travels through, the score should seem as if we were hearing everything through her” explains the composer about the score. “This is why the music has a very British / Western hemisphere flavour, as opposed to a collection of rough guide tracks.

The unique ensemble consists of the composer playing nine different instruments (guitars, piano, viola, cello, clarinet, dulcimer) accompanied by soloists for piccolo, cor anglais, violin and cello. Several tracks also have a hint of Eastern sounds (particularly Tuvan throat singing) plus Russian and Chinese instruments.

“Trees in Winter” is a lovely little cue for piano, with soft strings, winds and a gently ticking rhythm. It conveys a real sense of beauty and magic. “Idiosyncrasies” is another playful cue, though the emphasis this time lies on plucked strings and staccato winds. As the cue progresses, the quirkyness slowly makes way for something a little more fluid.

The is a slight Russian feel to “Window Seat”, courtesy of a quietly strumming balalaika during the opening moments. A whistful oboe plays over the top of it. Again, it has a Newmanesque feel to it, even if the oboe utilises a rather familiar 4-note motif. “Moving Scenery” is one of my favorite cues, with it’s staccato strings and quirky melody for woodwinds. During the second half, that quirkyness mellows and (again) the writing becomes much more fluid with woodwinds arpeggios and lush strings and winds.

There is a big open sound to “As Far as the Eye Can See”. It feels like a resolution, like a journey that’s coming to end. Piano and bass set the tone, with strings coming in over the top of them. A strumming guitar joins in towards the end. It almost has an ‘indie’ feel to it, with percussion being the obvious absentee. Staccato woodwinds, reminiscent of Alexandre Desplat, mark the closing cue “Rediscovery”. It’s a neat little track, that really should’ve reprised the “Once in a Lifetime” melody, but doesn’t.

Is it any good?

Miguel D’Oliveira’s “Transsiberian Adventure” is a really lovely, quirky little score. It’s a shame there’s only twenty minutes of it. The soundtrack during the show itself was fleshed out with source music (sometimes with unintentional comedic effect as David Arnold’s Bond music played whilst Lumley visited a gold mine).

D’Oliveira score is melodic, but doesn’t really have a main theme as such. “Once in a Lifetime” was used during the opening of each episode, thus taking on the role of main title but, like the other themes here, it doesn’t really return anywhere else. It befits the show, as each piece of music plays to a different location. What binds these nine cues is the sound; the orchestration. The composer put together a quirky ensemble and stuck with it. It’s incredibly pleasant on the ear. It has some beautiful and magical moments, but it’s mostly quite playful. Sometimes Newmanesque, sometimes Nyman- or even Horneresque. Thinking about it, the playfulness of it also sort-of reminds me of Cliff Martinez’s early work “King of the Hill”. It’s hard not to like this score, though it can feel a little familiar and at the same time a little anonymous. And it is very short, though there’s quite a bit of variety happening in that short period of time; and it works really well on repeat.

Rating [3.5/5]

Tracklisting

1 Once in a Lifetime (3:02)
2 Breathtaking Scenery (1:15)
3 And So It Begins (2:39)
4 Idiosyncrasies (3:21)
5 Window Seat (1:36)
6 Moving Scenery (2:48)
7 As Far as the Eye Can See (2:31)
8 Rediscovery (1:16)

Availability

Visit the Movie Score Media website for more information.

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