James Horner's "Pas de Deux"

Nov 1, 2015

Horner's Pas de Deux is the centerpiece on a lush, captivating album featuring sibling duo Mari and Hakon Samuelsen.

This is part of a series of WCRB blog posts that bring you a personal perspective on richly rewarding CD releases you may not encounter otherwise.

A CD came into our library recently that sat on my desk for a while before I had the chance to really listen to it, and as soon as I did, I was captivated.

The title track is lush, captivating, and highly listenable - which is sad that I feel compelled to write, but so much modern composition winds into territory that’s alienating to a non-academic listener. It turns out that the composer, James Horner, agrees: in the liner notes, Warwick Thompson writes:

As a young classical composer, Horner had become disillusioned with the world of intellectually driven, atonal contemporary music, and had moved into film scoring. Now, after his many movie successes, he was looking to return to the concert hall...[Horner said,] "I know from my own experience just how much I can push an audience out of its comfort zone. I want the piece to be performed, so I was very careful. It flirts with dissonance, but overall it's very consonant - and the melodies evolved naturally from that."

Pas De Deux, which he wrote specifically for sibling duo Mari and Hakon Samuelsen, is at times Debussy-esque, at times Brahmsian, even a little Mahlerian, and there are hints of Bach towards the end of the second movement. But it is, undoubtedly, written by James Horner. Horner, who tragically died in a plane crash last June, is best known for his film scores: Titanic, Avatar, Field of Dreams, Braveheart, and many more. Though it does sound like it could be a film score, the piece is also simply beautiful.

It’s a double concerto - a concerto featuring two soloists - and there are moments when the violin and cello dance together on their own, and you don’t even realize that the orchestra has joined them once again. When it does, it doesn’t detract from what they’re doing; they’re really the stars of the show with a supporting cast in the orchestra, rather than being pitted against the orchestra as is so often the case with concertos. I have to admit, the third movement kind of loses me a little - it’s much more percussive than the first two, and it seems like a distinctive personality shift, veering much more into the “I’m in an action movie!” territory that makes me less happy in film music. Overall, I can still dig it.

What I absolutely LOVE about this album, though, is how they sequenced it. They follow the Horner piece with Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, which complements Pas de Deux in beautiful ways. There’s also a fabulous piece after that, Violoncelles Vibrez! by Giovanni Sollima, which features guest cellist Alisa Weilerstein. Following that, and concluding the album, is Ludovico Einaudi’s Divenire, a lush work that claims to feature two harps, and though they were hard to hear, it was gorgeous nonetheless.

Overall: two huge thumbs up for this album, which you can find here.