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Pas De Deux by James Horner (Review)

posted Jul 5, 2015, 6:23 AM by
When I started working on this review, I had no idea what was about to happen. James Horner's untimely death shocked the world and people everywhere were devastated. James died almost two weeks ago and I am still having trouble to believe it actually happened. Since then, I have revisited several of his albums and I also once again enjoyed the album which I am about to present to you now. As I have pointed out several times before, I have been listening to the music of James Horner for twenty years and I think, I immediately realized back then, that he would end up being one of my absolute musical heroes and favorite composers. To me, his music has always been so inspiring and extremely moving and captivating. His career has been so extraordinary and he is simply a legend in this business. No matter what his critics and detractors say, his musical voice is unique, his composing skills and technique simply magnificent and he has shown the world on many occasions that he is simply one of a kind.
His career skyrocketed in the 80s and he has written for many different genres. Having had a superb career, Horner, at a certain point, had become very vocal about his concerns of modern day scoring and filmmaking in general. In the year 2012, James had written an outstanding score for The Amazing Spiderman and this would be his last scoring effort for three years, before he would re-unite with director Jean-Jacques Annaud for their collaboration on Wolf Totem. The film's score received huge praise and I also gave it the highest rating, because quite frankly, this effort was a high caliber one and Mr. Horner once again delivered stunning, well-written music.
Now, let's move back in time and analyze a Horner project prior to Wolf Totem. Before James got into film scoring, he had the idea of writing classical concert pieces. Yet, things took a different turn and Horner focused on writing for film, in order to gain experience as a composer and according to the man himself, he stated that he hadn't thought about writing for films until very late and it was the marriage of music and images that interested him the most.
Thirty years later, after voicing his concerns with the current Hollywood state, James Horner tackled a new project. It was his intention to write a classical concerto, focusing on two performers, also incorporating the orchestra of course. Yet, it was James' intention to write for two outstanding performers, Mari and Hakon Samuelsen, the Norwegian siblings. The concerto bears the name Pas De Deux, which basically means dance for two. It is easy to see why Horner named it that way. He intended to write a piece for two musicians, in this case the aforementioned siblings Mari (violin) and Hakon (cello). It is their performance that contributes largely to this experience. So here, we have a piece of music written by one of the most talented composers, performed by a symphonic orchestra and two young performers, so would do you expect? Honestly, I did expect a lot and I must say, I was not disappointed at all.
The concerto is divided into three parts, two of which are lengthy, the first just under ten minutes, the second one thirteen minutes and the final one, four minutes. I must say, I enjoyed it so much, that time went by so fast and at the end, I even felt it was too short. In order not to present an album, which is too short, Mercury Classics added three additional pieces to the album, so in total you get just under sixty minutes of music. The additional material features compositions by three different composers and Mari and Hakon Samuelsen also performed on those pieces. However, in my analysis, I will focus on the James Horner composition. The world premiere of said concerto took place in Liverpool and reportedly, the audience loved it and it was greatly enjoyed. Of course, you cannot please everybody and some felt it was not mature enough for a classical music composition. Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course and I am here to express mine for you dear readers.
In just under thirty minutes, every James Horner fan should get something out of this musical presentation. The structure is really good, the orchestration superb, the performance spot-on. This is simply a marvelous composition. Surely, the detractors of Mr. Horner might have a field day with some structures and patterns of this music and I simply believe, some people can never be pleased, no matter how hard anyone tries. Some material does indeed sound familiar and you can hear some Iris in there and a classic sound which you can find in a few of his scores. Furthermore, one part comes really close to a small motiv in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan and he also ended the Rocketeer credits in a similar fashion and you also find it in The Amazing Spiderman. Now, don't get me wrong. I am not bashing here. I am simply describing it to you and stating facts. Well, in the end, those details and little self-references never bothered me that much and I simply loved Pas De Deux instantly. The opening cello sound had me hooked and it never let me go for thirty minutes. The first ten minutes alone show Mr. Horner at his best, lush and romantic string writing, beautiful french horn sounds, showcasing Horner's emotional side, which every fan of the composer should be familiar with. It is emotional, touching and intriguing all at once. It opens the concerto in a great way and the first ten minutes are simply awesome. Part one is ended beautifully by the performance of Mari and Hakon Samuelsen. The playing of the siblings and the orchestra blend together seamlessly and it sounds grand.
The first five minutes of the second part are very quiet, low-key and lyrical. There is nothing fancy about it, it is well-balanced and it reaches an emotional high around the six minute mark. Horner at his best. After that, it slows down a bit and you once again hear the beautiful playing of Mari and Hakon, which later on, after eleven minutes, reaches an emotional culmination, simply a great and intense experience.
Now, we get to the third and last part of the concerto, that also happens to be my favorite one. It is the shortest piece of the album, yet the best and most engaging one. Horner starts it off with thunderous percussion, then orchestra and violin take over, playing simply beautifully and Horner's composition is once again carried out with fantastic style. This piece is the grand finale of the concerto. The orchestra and the two performers never really pause, the energy is great and after almost thirty minutes, the conductor, Vasily Petrenko, concludes this fantastic concert experience. This is great writing, a great composition, a superb performance, executed with great care and precision. Fans of classical music are likely to enjoy it and fans of composer James Horner, can add another highlight to their collection. Horner took time off from the film scoring world to deliver this piece and in my mind, he did succeed big time.
After James' shocking death, I am sure this album will be looked upon as another very important step in his career. It now reaches another level of importance and meaning for me as well. It has already found a special place in my heart. This album is another highlight and simply a cornerstone in James Horner's discography. The musical genius of James Horner will live on forever!