Film soundtracks can ride the line between overwrought, repetitive melodrama, which often hammers the hell out of a single melody (The Postman comes immediately to mind), and delicate, melodic variations that develop and build subtly with the narrative. The latter type of film score is no different from a classical work devised within the imagination of its composer. The only difference between an original work by Richard Wagner or Dmitri Shostakovich and Alexandre Desplats wonderfully lyrical score for The Painted Veil (much less extrovert than his brilliant music for Syrianna and The Queen) is that Desplat shapes each note to complement the specific images devised by director John Curran.
Many current soundtracks include a guest musician who ties in a particular locale or culture. Many times this inclusion is little more than a marketing stunt to further the career of an upcoming or little-known musician or an effort to bring in more money by using a big name. Since The Painted Veil is largely set in China, the playing of classical wunderkind Lang Lang adds the last bit of emotional weight to the story of Kitty and Walter Fane. Lang Langs expert playing is delicate and fleeting, which helps give a heartbreaking quality to the British couples bittersweet relationship while fitting in perfectly with Desplats overall scoring.
Lang shows the same mastery of his piano on Dragon Songs, only with more bravado. The Copland-esque "The Yellow River" is a tour de force of unbridled energy and perfectly timed counterpoints. Lang Lang attacks the keys with passion and precision, while more sedate cuts like "Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake" echo back to his work on The Painted Veil. This disc provides a very exciting and emotional journey.
An excellent recording captures each performance. The Painted Veil sounds weightless and open, as if the music had been patterned after the complex decorative details of a tapestry. Instruments are full and well placed within a transparent soundstage. Dragon Songs ups the ante with impressive dynamic range and excellent presence. The conclusion of each crescendo has just enough snap and bell-like tone to get the hair on the back of my neck going. Overall this is a very good example of Lang Langs work and an example of how good a soundtrack can be, given the right musical talent and good sound engineering.
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