Dubeau revisits cinema and gaming moments

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February 20, 2013

Silence, on joue! (A Time for Us)
Angèle Dubeau & La Pieta (2012)
Game Music

Reviewed by Aaron Shepard

Angèle Dubeau, a stellar violinist, is one of Canada’s most accomplished and celebrated classical musicians. Along with La Pieta, the all-female ensemble that has accompanied her since 1997, she has recorded rich, exuberant interpretations of composers such as Philip Glass, Arvo Part and John Adams that are faithful to the spirit of the original, yet accessible to a broad audience. Her signature sound of virtuoso musicianship, lush orchestrations and warm production values invariably smooths the edges from the more experimental pieces. Not that you’ll find anything too edgy in Silence, on joue! This collection of soundtrack covers is about giving the people what they want. Featuring selections from films as varied as Memoirs of a Geisha, The English Patient, Modern Times, and Cinema Paradiso, Silence will tug at the heart and memory strings of cinephiles. Some tracks, like “Over the Rainbow” and “Concerning Hobbits,” are instantly recognizable, while songs from Hana-Bi and L’odyssee d’Alice Tremblay are a bit more obscure. Regardless, they all tend toward the romantic, the pensive and the uplifting, and are perhaps too similar, too polished, to truly excite.

I’m not saying these songs lack sophistication. Composers like Ennio Morricone, John Williams and Joe Hisaishi, while mainstream, are too brilliant to turn out mere sugary pap, while Dubeau and La Pieta’s thoughtful instrumentation lends subtle depth to even a sentimental piece like “My Heart Will Go On.” If there is nothing unexpected here, these near-flawless interpretations offer a pleasurable, nostalgic journey for the listener.

Game Music, stretching the boundaries of classical music through interpretations of video game theme songs, is the more interesting of the two collections. Here, Dubeau and La Pieta capture the sense of magic and fantasy inherent in epic games and offer a glimpse into the gamer’s experience of being in another world, similar to the way one can be transported by a very good film (or very good film music). The maturity of many tracks demonstrates the extent to which video games have evolved in terms of narrative complexity and even emotional depth.

Like Silence, Game Music is easy on the ears, but also far more diverse and challenging for both musician and audience. Several songs–like “Heavy Rain,” “Final Fantasy” and “Secret of Mana”–are surprisingly beautiful, balancing tense, ominous crescendos with quiet interludes. “Chrono Trigger & Chrono Cross” soars with Middle-Eastern violins and galloping hand drums reminiscent of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. “Tetris,” with its harpsichord and an exuberant, Tchaikovsky-esque string section, is a far cry from the clunky, electronic version I remember from my youth. Meanwhile, the upbeat “Angry Birds Theme”–from the immensely popular kids’ game–is one of Dubeau’s most purchased tracks on iTunes.

In both collections, one senses Dubeau’s respect for the music, her belief in the ability of each song – yes, even the tired Titanic love theme – to exist apart from the scenes and images for which it was originally created. Through that respect and sincerity, she’s succeeded in giving the songs of Game Music and Silence a life of their own, freeing them to become soundtracks for new memories and associations: perhaps a comfy chair by the fire on a rainy day, or the view from a seaside cottage, if the listener is lucky enough.

 

Aaron Shepard, a former musician, is shopping his first novel around publishers’ desks and writing his second.

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