Remarkable just how entertaining one hour of unaccompanied mandolin plucking can be.
Kidding. About the content, not the quality that is. Whilst the eponymous instrument does
indeed have its moments centre stage, and whilst it is indeed a lovely sound, this is also
a lush score of orchestral string arrangements and thematic depth.
As with most films containing allusion to music or instrument in their titles (The Red
Violin for example) attention is focused on the score; and it becomes integral to
cinematic success. Here, once again working with director John Madden—with whom he
teamed on Shakespeare In Love—composer Stephen Warbeck delivers a score that
It is a soundtrack with a wealth of tonal colours and a rollercoaster of emotions. From
the opening cue Pelagia’s Song, with mandolin providing gentle
undercurrent for sweeping strings, to the beautiful piece that is simply titled
The Mandolin, it is hard to be anything but enraptured.
Innovation is not the strong suit here; it is finesse that reigns supreme. There is a
vast dynamic over the course of the soundtrack, with the sweet, rich string arrangements
contrasting with solo instrument cues—a beautiful one titled The Guitar being a
worthy compliment to The Mandolin—and on two tracks the peerless tenor voice of
Russell Watson. With melodies mostly in his upper register, Watson’s tender vibrato
beautifully seals his controlled and mellifluous ascending phrases in both Senza Di Te and
Ricardo Ancor, a reprise of Pelagia’s Song.
For further variety the tracks titled the La Scala Songs are cues from the film of
Italian soldiers performing Verdi’s La Donna Mobile and Lilli Marlene. The latter
must surely be one of the most extraordinary songs of history, being adopted by combatants
on each and every side of the trenches.
Sad, joyous, epic, tragic, romantic; this soundtrack is hardly restrained, but it is
also far too classy to ever dip into tawdry sentimentality. Rather, it aims for all the
big emotions and hits them square on. Exquisite.
Published September 27, 2001