News Archive... AKA The Old Blog

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Review: Frankel's 'Curse of ...'

Curse of The Werewolf
Music by Benjamin Frankel / Conducted by Carl Davis
Rating: * * * * 1/2

I’ll confess that Benjamin (street name, “Ben Jammin”) Frankel was not always a composer I had any particular fondness for. In the past few years, I’ve made multiple attempts to enjoy my copy of the compilation, Benjamin Frankel – Music for the Movies. Sadly, every new listen put me straight to sleep. Maybe it was a poor cue sequence, maybe it was a weak recording, maybe it was a bad performance, but it left me with the impression that Frankel was a bland and forgettable composer. Rest assured, this is decidedly not the case with Naxos’ new recording, Curse of the Werewolf And Other Film Music by Benjamin Frankel. How short I sold you, B. Jammin’ (his other street name)! In this compilation, we hear a Frankel who is uniformly brilliant, classy, and blisteringly dynamic – quite the opposite of my first impression, and quite a necessity for your CD library.

The complete score for Curse of the Werewolf headlines the album, and it doesn’t take long to realize that the score is a long over-looked masterpiece of the genre. This is broad and epic horror scoring, the type that’s entirely absent from the genre today. What’s perhaps the most amazing is that despite the score’s use of 12-tones scales, dissonant harmonies, and passing shades of Bartok, the music isn’t ugly or unpleasant to listen to at all. Though dissonant, the music never actually moves into grinding tone clusters, and a clear melodic line is almost always discernable. Aside from a short three-note motif threaded through the carnage and the occasional respite from a love theme, there really aren’t any major themes, but that’s hardly an issue here. Frankel’s score plays more like abstract concert music than traditional film music – it follows its own whims and harmonic developments, rather than fastidiously marking each hit with a leitmotif. That isn’t to say that there isn’t a close and meaningful relationship between the on-screen drama and the music, only that the music doesn’t take the easy route of marking of every individual action and stabbing every individual shock stinger. It plays more like a violent tempest raging above the action, thundering over the full moon as it watches over the carnal ecstasy of the beast. Not that it’s all Sturm und Drung. There are also expertly crafted subtle moments of rising suspicion and dread that build to horrific realizations – the grand dynamic statements don’t come out of nowhere, they’re earned. And the aforementioned love theme is exquisite (“Pastoral”), so perfectly orchestrated and so beautifully bittersweet that it makes me wonder how I possibly could have dismissed Frankel’s romantic writing in the past (especially as that cue was in the other Frankel compilation). The finale is by far the standout, moving from a thrilling chase that recalls Herrmann’s stunning “The Hunt” from On Dangerous Ground into a breathless assault until it finally resolves into a triumphant conclusion (once upon a time all movies, no matter how dark, got a rousing upbeat musical finish). - Paul Cote

Full review coming to the site soon...