Gavin Bryars, Petr Nalich, Sergey Taneyev: Season of Mists, Soundtrack – GB Records BCGBCD14, 41:31 [Distr. by Allegro] **1/2:
There are film scores and the music of some film composers that one can listen to and enjoy a great deal without ever having seen the film. Some movie music stands on its own quite well, melodically and emotionally, as a simple effective listening experience without needing to know what the sounds reference as part of a prerequisite to enjoyment. For me, composers such as Rachel Portman and Alexander Desplat always provide such moments. In the “classical” composers camp, I find some people there whose film scores I can listen to and get immersed in even if I did not see the film; in some instances, the hearing makes the seeing a must do. Again, for me, Philip Glass and Michael Nyman always do this. One of the reasons this disc appealed to me, initially, and disappoints, ultimately, is the mere fact that the main composer of the film score is Gavin Bryars, whose music I greatly admire.
Bryars’ music is known for its lush harmonies, its very “post minimal” structures and the fact that it moves forward slowly, purposefully, almost trancelike. The short segments of Bryars’ work here are not only a bit uncharacteristic of his overall output but it sounds like a film score; sound that requires visual enhancement for it to be fully appreciated. The soundtrack opens nicely enough with a section from the beautiful String Trio by Taneyev. The track, by Bryars, that follows, “Viaduct”, evens owes a lot of its sound and tonal center to the Taneyev, as if the String Trio serves as a template or starting point for the rest; which – perhaps – it does. This connection and effect seemed reinforced when the Taneyev reemerges in track No. 7, followed by Bryars’ contribution, “Musicians depart”. Each of the Bryars cuts, his portions of the soundtrack are not unpleasant – quite the opposite. It is just that each does seem to have some overt connection to the Taneyev and, interestingly, sound more like Philip Glass than Gavin Bryars in that they are short with much rhythmic pulse and small structures instead of the long lines we are used to. In fact, track No. 12 “Meeting/night” is very pretty and does sound like Bryars but the context again seems odd without the film.
The cuts by Russian composer Petr Nalich do not offend but I did find them so stylistically out of place compared to the Bryars. His vocals and piano licks and the overall tone, such as track No. 9, “Disappointment” made me think that much of this movie must take place in a Bulgarian bar or something where the singer is a character in a smoky room. (The inclusion of “As time goes by” in track No. 13 did nothing to allay that perception) The two composers have such wildly different styles that placing them side by side and in succession I found to be a bit disarming.
Bryars has apparently written for film maker Anna Tchernakova twice before, according to the brief booklet notes. The total effect of this music with the film may be wonderful. Even Nalich, by himself, may be at least more interesting in a quirky sort of way. Unfortunately this did strike me as one of those soundtracks that really does not make much of an impact by itself and nor did it seem so musically catching that you infer that the film must be great. I would like to hunt down the film to finalize my opinion of the total package once I see it but the soundtrack as a listening experience does not really rise above the level of ‘pretty’ or ‘interesting’ or even ‘pretty interesting’. There are many, many better ways to get to know the music of Gavin Bryars to be sure. Even someone who knows his work very well, as I believe I do, would not immediately peg this as Bryars and may be disappointed, as well.
— Daniel Coombs