The Red Violin traces the history of a legendary violin thought to possess an immortal soul from its construction in 17th-century Cremona to a present-day auction room. A showcase for the range of violinist Joshua Bell, John Corigliano's score pursues the violin's melancholy theme tune as it passes through many hands in five different countries. Even the gypsy fiddle-playing echoes the central theme. Corigliano draws inspiration from Mozart, Bach, and virtuoso composer/performers like Paganini, tracing a history not just of the red violin but the evolution of violin music in Western culture. The string section of the London Philharmonia provides adept accompaniment, underscoring the interludes where Bell rests. An appended concert piece provides Bell with the room to show off his chops, glimpsed earlier in the almost unfeasibly fast solo "Etudes: Death of Caspar." The Red Violin stands among the greatest music-oriented films, and Corigliano's labor of love should be in everyone's collection.
David Poole


The Red Violin: (John Corigliano) Composer John Corigliano does not have a lenghty track record as far as film scores are concerned. Just like Aaron Copland, Corigliano's forays into film scoring have been few and far between. His two previous scores were composed for Ken Russell's Altered States (1980) followed a few years later by a gorgeous score for Hugh Hudson's critically lambasted Revolution (1985). Although his pioneering Altered States score is currently available on CD, Revolution remains a sadly unreleased masterpiece. Fortunately, John Corigliano's third film score, written for François Girard's The Red Violin is probably his finest and most complex effort to date.

Starring Samuel L. Jackson, the movie depicts a violin's journey through several centuries, an instrument mysteriously haunted by the soul of its maker's deceased wife. The plot begins in 17th century Cremona, ending in 20th century Montreal. It is a strange and very exciting premise, grandly supported by John Corigliano's haunting, complex, lyrical and innovative score. I have not yet seen the movie, but I suppose this is one of those film scores that play a key role during the movie. Although nowadays too many film scores are generic and unimaginative wall to wall accompaniement, John Corigliano's scoring is refreshing: individual, accessible and particularly striking. Fans of Elliot Goldenthal's gothic approach will undoubtedly enjoy this CD, because Corigliano has played a major influence on Goldenthal's musical development. In a nutshell, if you love those brooding, lyrical and darkly romantic soundscapes, then The Red Violin soundtrack will not leave your CD player.

Stylistically, Corigliano goes for a strong elegiac tone. Unlike Goldenthal, the composer does not rely on brass so much, selecting instead a more transparent orchestral texture, with an emphasis on strings. "Anna's theme" opens the CD with a plaintive theme sung by soprano, soon joined by Joshua Bell's solo violin. as unisson strings enter, the piece develops seguing into the "Main Title". Its reflective mood gains in intensity and the listener is quietly drawn into a musical tapestry of infinite power and delicacy. Following the violin's journey through centuries, Anna's theme is further developped, enhanced by varied and sometimes colorful orchstrations and motives, running the gamut from pseudo-baroque writing to gypsy cadenzas, to virtuoso cues displaying the full range of Joshua Bell's playing. The music also has a very organic quality: the main material springs from the simple, seductive child-like melody heard at the start of the album. A very strong idea indeed. The CD climaxes with "The Red Violin Chaconne", a 17 minutes virtuoso concert piece created by Corigliano whilst composing the actual film score. This lyrical and savage opus remains coherent with the rest of the score and makes for a very nice conclusion. This is superb and accessible music.

Yet, this is not The Piano! While both scores showcase a solo instrument performing a main character in the narrative, John Corigliano's style is not yet as popular as Michael Nyman's easy listening cum classical approach! Nevertheless, let us hope this soundtrack will shed a little more light than usual upon this most gifted musical voice. In my humble opinion, Mr. Corigliano ranks among the most important American composers of the last thirty years.

The performance by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Esa-Pekka Salonen's conducting is faultless and inspired. So is the sound quality: the beautiful, sharp and spacious recording captured in Abbey Road's studio 1 is on a par with the best classical recordings. As a final note, Sony Classical's packaging and booklet are classy as usual, featuring sessions photos and informative notes by the composer and director François Girard. Here is one of the best soundtrack albums of 1999.
Christian Lauliac

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