Russland (Kolja Erdmann)Posted: January 19, 2012
Final Musings: Kolja Erdmann may not be well known outside of his homeland, but his work for Russland is definitely warranting some more attention. A score of magnificent scope in its choral splendor and orchestral lyricism, listeners will be blown away by the stunning music of this score. While some may find some hints of influence from Zimmer’s score for King Arthur, this score still offers some of the best material of its year. Ladies and gentlemen, if you have not done so, make it a priority to obtain this hidden gem of 2011.
Countless nature documentary features have attempted to get the importance of environmental protection to mainstream audiences by dazzling them with the stunning beauty of planet Earth, and this is done often with great success (look to BBC’s infamous Planet Earth series or the Blue Planet). Russland is the cinematic incarnation of the series Wildes Russland (Wild Russia). The German production team definitely approached the concept with great ambition in mind, and it’s hard not to argue for their success. Spending over 3 years of filming to capture over 100, 000 miles of land within 600 hours of raw material is indeed quite a feat. They really hoped to capture all of Russia onto their film. The film’s scope is impressive with absolutely stunning imagery and an epic portrayal of Russia’s landscapes. It is interesting to note that usually nature documentaries of grand scope come along with scores of equal scope as shown by Geroge Fenton’s countless efforts for BBC productions. It is the one genre that film score fans can still count on for grand orchestral scores.
Kolja Erdmann does not fail to attest to this notion. The German composer has often scored a variety of nature features in his homeland and with this score; Erdmann seems to be giving it his all. The score is colossal in scope and surprisingly dramatic. With dark and mature tones, the music suggests an epic along the heights of big Hollywood pictures such as Gladiator or Ben-Hur (although the actual scores of these films could not be more different). In fact, the music can be so massive at times that one cannot help but think how a work as impressively dominant as this could be attuned to footage of narration over shots of nature. Russland must be an impressive documentary indeed to feature such a score. There is much to love in a production like this. It features rich themes, dynamic orchestral colours and rousing choral work to consistently keep listeners in awe.
One of the most interesting aspects of this score however, is the conspicuous resemblance it bears to Hans Zimmer’s King Arthur. There are various cases Zimmer’s trademark sounds make appearances. For instance, the opening tones of the main theme itself are alike to that of the main theme of King Arthur. Melodramatic choral progressions at moments like 1:30 in Der Kontinent will bring back memories of Zimmer’s choral moments of awe in the Da Vinci Code. Some of the action music for the battle sequences between the animals treads deep into Zimmer territory with the insistent melodramatic pounding in cues like Konets Myagkosti. Simply listening to Der Grosse Storm, one cannot help but wonder if the film was temp-tracked with Zimmer’s score for King Arthur as the same sensibilities are quite apparent in many moments in the score. Listeners may also make note of the rare moments in Der Kampf der Arktis amongst others near the conclusion of the album, where the brass sounds very much like the synthetic samples that Zimmer has become so famous for. This may be a mixing issue, but the peculiarity will be picked up by some ears. Yet it would be quite foolish to be so hasty as to dismiss this as another tiring Zimmer clone product upon reading this passage for the score is nothing of the sort. While the score does bear some Zimmer sensibilities (especially in the action material), the score remains far more dynamic than much of Zimmer’s palette, especially while taking his recent scores in mind.
One needs only to take a look at the instrumental colours of this score to be blown away. The primary musical element of this score is the stirring Russian toned mixed chorus. This choral component adds all sorts of dimension to the score. The female voices signify the ethereal moments of beauty while deep bass tones (that resemble throat singing in some ways) in cues like Konets Myagkosti portray another sense of awe. The male choral chanting in cues like Der Kampf der Arktis and Die Gewalt Kamtschatkas can be quite bewitching at times. The mixed chorus can really sweep you away with its bold Russian tones as it explodes with the Russia theme in cues like Krallen und Wut. Listeners who are fond of the choral elements of this score will find themselves visiting the Siben Bruder cue quite often as the choir is extensively utilized and developed to great heights in this cue. Other ethnic colours include the Russian chordophones (arguably the gusli) in moments like the opening track and even a bit of Japanese instrumentation (including the beloved shakuhachi flute) in the second half of Konets Myagkosti. When the chorus is unified with the chordophones in cues like Die Schonheit des Kaukasus, the Russian atmosphere is effectively created (although some may argue it is done to cliché levels). In addition to these elements, there is also the female vocals and the duduks that make appearances in cues like Die Schwere Sibiriens. Within the standard orchestra, the score will enrapture listeners with many gorgeous flute solos amongst others and some great orchestral writing. It should also be noted that Erdmann does make use of certain electronic elements (first heard in the opening track) to add a different edge to it. These elements are largely melded well into the music, but at times; its placement at the forefront of the mix diminishes the impact of the sound overall. Regardless, the electronics are largely not intrusive.
Thematically, this score has much to offer. With a plethora of rich thematic identities, it will be hard to pinpoint the thematic representations without having seen the score in context, so listeners will have to make do with the names assigned in this review. The main theme is heard right from the beginning of the score. This theme goes through significant development throughout the score. In its full symphonic glory, the theme is often accompanied by a driving ostinato that can be heard in 3:12 at Der Kontinent. The musical identity has numerous variations through its progress in the score. Its B phrase can be heard at the opening of Die Bewohner Des Waldes. To go on, some listeners may find the pizzicato variation of the main theme amusing in Kleine Fusse. Stimme der Walder plays out another enchanting variation of the main theme that will remind listeners of the emotionally potent moments of Arnau Bataller’s La Herencia Valdemar. All these ideas of the main theme are summed quite well in the title song of the series at the conclusion of the album. This is accompanied by German singer, Alexandra Seefisch’s elegant voice. When accompanied by the mighty chorus, the dramatic effect is quite impressive. This track also inhabits a more robust variation of the main theme on the chorus. The next major theme is arguably the more compelling theme. This beautiful theme can stand for the splendor of life and nature at work. The nature theme debuts in the first track at 1:05. It later receives its most glorious proclamation in Der Biakalsee. To go on, Erdmann assigns a theme for the nation of Russia as a whole in the fashion of a traditional Russian anthem. The Russian theme debuts ominously on the cellos at 3:46 in Die Herden. This theme is mostly accompanied by prickly action material before it explodes to glorified statements of Russian pride in cues like Krallen und Wut and Kalter Riese. The blown up chorus along with its booming timpani is quite epic in its stature yet its typical Russian musical progressions will automatically bring the Kremlin to mind. There are other secondary themes to take into consideration in this score. One of them would be what shall be known as the wonder theme which makes its debut with at 2:10 in Die Herden and can be heard in other cues like Die Welt Friert. Its melodramatic sensibilities will ultimately lure listeners into its beauty. The final secondary theme is also a beautiful descending melody that can be heard in places like Die Weisse Ebene that often acts as a precursor to the main theme.
One must marvel at the beauty of these many themes, for it truly creates a marvelous listening experience. It is quite difficult to not be taken by this score. Its choral splendor, lovely woodwind accents and the sheer beauty of the themes along with their melodramatic progressions combine to create a score of truly great scope. Thus, to determine only 5 individual highlights will be difficult.
Muse on These:
A great opening to a fantastic score. Some of the progressions here will harken back to Zimmer’s King Arthur, but the beauty of the woodwind parts along with the glory of the full blown choir effectively work together to build a great platform for the score to build off of. With multiple statements of the main theme along with an intimate statement of the nature theme and a melancholic statement of the wonder theme at 1:36, this is a great place to start.
Krallen und Wut
This track sums up the style of the action material in this score. With intriguing tapping rhythms on the strings of the bowed instruments, pulsating electronic rhythms and brass figures a potent atmosphere of action is created. However, it is not until the choir kicks in at 1:15 that the piece really soars along with the Russian theme.
This fantastic piece opens up with arguably the most beautiful statement of the nature theme. As the horns accompany this piece, there is an effective sense scope to the music as it conjures up images of the beautiful landscapes of Russia.
As opens with rapid string ostinati, the chorus joins in to portray a sense of genuine awe. This one track acts as a great summary of the choral work in the score. From the awe portrayed in the beginning to the ominous atmosphere conveyed past the 1 minute mark, there a great sense of dynamics that is apparent in this cue.
Wildes Russland – Titelsong
A fantastic denouement to the score and it acts as a great summary of the main thematic identity of the film. Alexandra Seefisch’s voice suits Erdmann quite well and when joined with the chorus, the listener cannot help but feel emotionally attached. Her voice demonstrates great power when the full ensemble joins together at 3:12. At 4:04, the orchestra takes a robust variation of the main theme joined along with the chorus.
To sum it up, this is truly a magnificent score and a wondrous achievement on Erdmann’s part. Its scores like these that are missing from mainstream films and really is a shame. The beauty of the lush themes and the gravity of the epic tones of this work will impress its musical achievements upon all listeners. Some listeners might be disturbed by the apparent similarities to Zimmer’s King Arthur, but this score is arguably the superior effort with its magnificent dynamic range. While there are moments in the action that resemble Zimmer’s trademark styles (sometimes even going to the point of hearing similar sounding brass samples in ), most of the score’s great orchestral lyricism deviate from that trampled road. A minor complaint might also be with the action material and the nature of some of the robust choral chanting in moments like the 2nd half of the title song at the end along with the redundant brass blasts in cues like Konets Myagkosti. Regardless, this is a tremendous score of great delight and definitely one of the best of its year. Only a few minor flaws keep this hidden gem of 2011 from attaining the highest score.
Rating: * * * * 1/2