Howard's Defiance Score Review

Back in January I reviewed the score for the film Defiance, by James Newton Howard. It was (for me) an interesting score, but not quite the level I expected out of Howard's music.

Since then the CD of the film music has been released. I have not purchased a copy, so I'll not personally comment on the music, however, in an effort to be fair, there are several reviews that have been posted so I thought I would include highlights here.

Marina Romani of MusicalCriticism.com gave a warm reception to the music, in many respects similar to my own review:

"Howard's predilection for strings is reflected in the presence of Grammy Award winning violinist Joshua Bell as soloist. Bell's interventions are sometimes rather circumscribed, as the few notes in 'Bella and Zus' demonstrate. Yet, probably thanks to this reticence, his presence becomes even more meaningful.

"Despite the harmonic unity that characterizes most of the score, a sense of progression is provided by the presence of contrasting pieces. One of them is 'The Bielski Otriad', in which drums and brasses become more invasive and give the score a new narrative twist. Another musical variation is offered in the closing piece, 'The Bielski Brothers/Ikh Bin A Mame', which is different from the rest of the soundtrack both by virtue of a severe piano solo and by the attenuation of the string work.

"On the whole, Howard's score is effective in supporting the film's structure and in maintaining its high technical quality. Joshua Bell's playing stands out within a very polished orchestral interpretation, one that on occasions seemed to be too mechanical."

Howard, whose original name was Howeritz but was changed to Howard by his father to conceal their Jewish Heritage, felt the story of the film was very meaningful and needed to be expressed in a way that would live on emotionally. “The violin can express the complete range of human emotion. It can be joyful and jaunty or it can sound like it’s moaning and crying. And it can express great longing and loss, which is so strong in this story,” Howard said. “The violin is so emotional that the key was keeping the music reined in, so it doesn’t tip over into sentimentality.”

“The instrument itself was not going to be as important as the notes that were written for the instrument,” he explained.

So, perhaps my comments about the violin's true connection the heritage was not the fault of Joshua Bell, but lies with the composer.

Defiance - Music from the Motion Picture by James Newton Howard
Featuring Joshua Bell, violin (Sony/BMG 88697417392)

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