Review by Brad Green:
Blame it on Pythagoras I say. The whole astonishing lot. The beauty of Mozart, the
absurdity of The Spice Girls, the decadence of jazz and this lovely James Horner score.
Pythagoras’ own musical talents are not well documented – I like to fancy he
mastered the (right angle) triangle – but by unlocking the secrets of musical
intervals and the principles of consonance, the great Greek number cruncher linked
mathematics and music in a way that has resonated ever since.
Of course music theory does not automatically transform itself into the food of love.
It has to being marinated in a good deal of artistic sensibility before it tastes of
emotional beauty. Some minds have the recipe for turning numbers into intricate game
theory, and some transmute them into touching harmonies. This score is hardly a Nobel
Prize level of achievement, but it has already copped an Oscar nomination and could just
possibly get the numbers to snatch the statue.
It’s certainly one of Horner’s most consistent efforts. For he has had a
tendency to compose flawed gems. Always there is that gorgeous lush sound, always there
are accessible motives and fascinating modulations, and often they are mitigated by
overbearing repetition or a breach of the frontier between sentiment and sentimentality.
This time Horner has got the equation just right, without altering the template. His
signature tonalities and nuances are there from the start: rich strings, whimsical piano
figures and a central theme exploiting an oscillating interval. There’s also the
human voice. While most of the songs that have been tacked on to Horner’s scores
since Celine Dion’s titanic Titanic hit have sounded uncomfortably contrived,
Charlotte Church’s contribution here, both in song and in the body of the score, is
Her tone has a substance and maturity that belies her teenage years, and at the same
time carries an inherent innocence and purity. It is perfect for this soundtrack. The
Power Of Love does not always need to be embodied in a power ballad, and Church’s
voice has just the right angelic and lenitive quality for a true story about the rescue of
troubled genius. Within the score her wordless melody blends unobtrusively with the
orchestrations, and her song is a snug extension of the instrumental cues. Closer in style
to Howard Blake than pop diva land, Horner’s melody is only slightly tarnished by
lyricist Will Jennings once again demonstrating a mastery of the cliché.
This is an "enhanced" CD with the bonuses including standard extras such as
the film trailer and a few stills, plus interviews with Horner and director Ron Howard.
The conversations are short in length and plentiful in platitude, but Horner’s
interview can be viewed as video as well as text, which is a nice touch.
In any case, Horner’s music speaks for itself. This is one of the most fluent and
eloquent scores of his career. Within his trademark parameters, he has rarely captured the
essence of a story so pointedly. The mood travels easily from dark to light, chaos to
order, genius to madness and despair to optimism. Man has been making some kind of music
since he could bang two rocks together. But it was a mathematical understanding of that
basic instinct that gave composers the tools to create art. This score mightn’t be a
landmark of music history, but if Pythagoras heard it I think he’d be pretty pleased.
Published March 7, 2002