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Editor's Choice
Best of the Month for December
 

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA (2005)

18 Tracks  (Playing Time =  61:13)

Music composed, conducted, and produced by John Williams.

Featuring Itzhak Perlman, violin; Yo-Yo Ma, cello; Masakazu Yoshizawa, shakuhacki; and Masayo Ishigure and Hiromi Hashibe, kotos. Music edited by Ken Wannberg, Ken Karman, and Ramiro Belgardt. Music recorded at Royce Hall, UCLA; and Sony Pictures Studios, Culver City, CA. Score recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Album mastered by Patricia Sullivan at Bernie Grundman Mastering, Hollywood, California. Art direction and design by Susanne Cerha.

Sony Classical 74708

Rating: ****

Rob Marshall’s adaptation of the widely popular Arthur Golden novel, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, comes to theaters in time for Oscar consideration. Already it has been receiving much critical acclaim and the previews themselves appear to indicate a beautifully shot film. Into the mix, add the third score by John Williams this year, itself receiving accolades as one of the best of the year and there is much anticipation for those waiting to hear this score.

The disc opens with the brief theme for Sanyuri. It is reminiscent of Tan Dun’s scores for CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000), and HERO (2002), but falls closer thematically to Williams’ equally excellent score to the tepid SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET (1997). Simplistic beauty is only a small part of the adjectives one could use to discuss this music. That is because along the way, with arching cello lines (supplied by Yo-Yo Ma) comes a fascinating blend of Asian instrumentation unlike anything in Williams’ canon. In "Going to School" the mixture of Western and Eastern sounds blends effortlessly. With shakuhachi and koto solos added in, Williams takes us fully in to the cultural expression of this story.

The unusual combinations are always captivating in a way the experimental writing in IMAGES (1972) often was, though here they are far from that atonal and often visceral score. This is on display best in "The Rooftops of the Hanamachi." "Brush on Silk" is just one of many places where you can forget you are listening to a contemporary piece of music by an American composer as the style is so well captured in the music. "Chiyo’s Prayer" features both the "star" artists in solo writing coupled with gorgeous shakuhachi playing by Masakazu Yoshizawa, one of the several strands of creative genius that is on display. As Sanyuri’s theme recurs throughout the score it is treated to a variety of orchestral accompaniments that run the gamut from solo expressions, to full orchestral ones with Taiko drumming styles creating various senses of energy. Every now and then the music receives a fascinating shimmering sound with ostinati in vibraphones that recalls other minimalist composers influenced by Asian gamelan playing.

Once the album is underway, there are many common Williams fingerprints to be found. "Finding Satsu" features orchestral writing often used by Williams to underscore emotionally dramatic scene changes. An undulating bass line plays around on thematic material, repeating the line and growing in intensity in a way common to many of the composer’s dramatic music from the STAR WARS films to ANGELA’S ASHES (1999) and STEPMOM (1998). In this score presentation, however, these moments are few and far between and often taken in different directions from earlier scores. Throughout one is reminded of the way Williams is adept at creating the proper mood and texture for a scene and in unifying a score with thematic threads.

The disc closes with one of the shortest end credit suites that Williams has used on CDs in quite a while clocking in at under 6 minutes.

The booklet folds out to reveal many stills from the film. There is nothing else in the booklet from anyone concerned with the film.

This is perhaps Williams’ finest score yet on a par with SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993) in its emotional expression and thematic poignancy. Every track is a highlight if you can believe that!

If this score does not win Williams his sixth Oscar it would be a surprise even with some excellent competition.

-- Steven A. Kennedy , 1 December 2005

Comments regarding this review can be sent to this address: stev4uth@hotmail.com

 

And another review...

Rating: ****

 

I must say I agree with Steve's assessment of this soundtrack.   John Williams continues to amaze with his incredible diversity.  Just look at what he had accomplished so far this year: STAR WARS: EPISODE III - REVENGE OF THE SITH and WAR OF THE WORLDS, both very different sci-fi scores .  

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA is yet another example of his enormous talent in writing a superlative score. It reminds me of such brilliant Williams scores as SCHINDLER'S LIST and SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET, which both received Sammy Awards.  

There are two major themes:  "Sayuri's Theme" is beautifully played by cellist Yo-Yo Ma on the first track, and the other theme a glorious one -- "The Chairman's Waltz"(track 8), sensitively performed by violinist Itzhak Perlman.  Both themes are heard throughout the score and are developed with great skill and imagination. They are both perfectly rendered Asian-style themes.  Among the high points of this great soundtrack are track 16, "Confluence," and "Sayuri's Theme and End Credits"on track 18.  Both tracks have the themes skillfully interwoven.  

I need not mention other tracks since every one of them has something worthy to offer, with prominent use of koto drums and shakuhachi and the beautiful solos played by Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman, which are used sparingly throughout this quiet and subtle soundtrack. 

This is surely one of the best soundtracks of the year and also one of the most serene John Williams scores of the past decade.  

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA is a CD that belongs in every John Williams film score fans library.

Highest recommendation!  A complete triumph!

-- Roger Hall, 1 December 2005

 

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA has received a

Sammy Award

 

 


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