The King of Nerac

nerac MovieScore Media is with their releases constantly highlighting the music of lesser known and up-and-coming composers and scores of many films that often remain unknown outside their countries of origin. Their releases feature often superb and compelling works from people whose output might otherwise be easily overlooked in favour of the bigger scores for movies coming out of Hollywood. One such composer is the British Michael Csányi-Wills, whose music for The King of Nerac, has now been released by the label. Csányi-Wills' previous credits include many animated features (co-composed with another British composer Nigel Clarke) but has been steadily working of many and varied film projects in the last decade. While the title of this film might sound historical or even exotically fantastic The King of Nerac is actually a 2013 documentary feature about a British painter-sculptor David Breuer-Weill.

The film recounts Breuer-Weill's journey from being one of the top art dealers in London to becoming one of the pre-eminent modern British artists whose challenging paintings and sculptures grace public spaces and galleries from British Isles to Israel. It is also a story of the reclusive artist's working method, where the Kingdom of Nerac plays a vital role and forms the backbone of his creative process. Nerac, an imaginary world Breuer-Weil established in his childhood, is a place of rampant ideological change and struggle where the rise and fall of dynasties of artists gives Breuer-Weil freedom to interactively collaborate. It is a world of bizarre prophecy and strange thought – a place that has sustained the artist's wellspring of creativity to this day.

The music for a film with such a fascinating premise is full possibilities for flights of imagination as the documentary is both a two year look into the world of the artist but also a visual experience where the art of Breur-Weill plays a large part. This afforded the young composer a very large canvas to work on. He seems to have approached this score in part with simplicity, in part with lyrical and melodic expressiveness that is represented by cor anglais and solo piano that compliment a moderately sized symphonic ensemble. Added to these forces is some instrumental inventiveness as the composer expressed part of his emotional response to the film and the imaginary kingdom of Nerac and its ruling artist through the use of exotic percussion colouration from Far Eastern instruments like gamelan, gongs, and angklungs that can be heard ticking, twinkling, clanging and echoing along with harp, celesta and harpsichord throughout this score and together they create a mesmerizing field of sound.

On one hand Csányi-Wills' approach seems very typical for its times as he like many others these days has chosen to employ minimalism as the driving force of the score and the music conjures up at times strong shades of e.g. Philip Glass in the way the little musical cells develop throughout the pieces on the album. At the same time there are undoubted hints of the modern blockbuster scoring stylings in the propulsive minimalistic musical figures that seem to be the watchword of the day. But luckily these elements are handled with obvious skill and elegance by the composer.

The composer draws the listener into this musical world of Nerac with his attractive opening piece 'Neracian Dances' a slow liltingly melancholic piano meditation full of classical elegance. The music does not thrive on mere minimalism though and the composer anchors the music to several central themes that offer emotional resonance to what might have otherwise ended as mere musical wallpaper without a strong centre. Here such centre comes in the form of solo flute that intones the wistful main theme that runs through the entire album in various guises. The track also establishes a mood that permeates the entire score, half-way between wonder and rueful pensiveness.

'Ant's Nest' is a great example of the minimalistic writing done with conviction and character as woodwinds, exotic echoing percussion colours and kinetic tugging of strings propel the piece forward with curious hypnotic energy that dances forward almost irresistibly as we hear the flute taking up the opening theme again. 'A Medieval Apocalypse' luckily sounds nothing of the sort as it slowly develops into a string ensemble exploration of the romantic secondary theme of the score in highly lyrical fashion, answered by main theme accompanied by glittering harp figures and angular calls from the cor anglais.

The longest piece and a highlight of the album comes with the deftly orchestrated and stately 'Cambridge' that bubbles with energy as it combines the busy textures of the propulsive string ostinati with the clear sharp tones of harpsichord and undulating woodwind lines that transform into a mesmerizing mediation that sounds both delightfully classical and modern at the same time, blurring time and place fittingly for this musical portrait of the strange fantasy landscape of the artist's mind. A gorgeous cor anglais solo, harp and celesta further add to the ethereal elegance of the piece. 'The Dream of Two Beings in One' continues to explore the secondary theme through the string section in a highly attractive manner.

'Forest of Nerac' paints a slightly more bucolic and optimistic aural image through the use of varied instrumentation although the lovely main theme returns on clear solo piccolo and sinuous cello before the music once again turns to pensive textures as the awe and ruminative mood constantly ebb and flow throughout the score.

'22 Artists of the Neracian School' features a curious almost jazzy cor anglais theme supported by earthy tread of drums and the rare appearance of deeper brass and the ever present twinkling sound elements from various percussive instruments, achieving here a haunting and evocatively searching tone. Piano is highlighted on several tracks, e.g. on 'Still the Garden of Eden' where the main theme receives an aching forlorn piano solo rendition and in the all too brief 'A Moment of Peace' where the composer transforms the inherently sad main theme into a tender almost lullaby-like creation which glows with warmth and optimism.

In 'Sleeping Next to a Mountain' the score seems to find another Philip Glass-styled high point as the piano circles minimalistically around the subtly pulsing and driving strings, deep brass punctuation and array of colours from harp, glockenspiel and exotic percussion, the music exuding in equal measure powerful wonder and sadness. The album is rounded out by the energetic 'Culmination of Minds' where all the elements of the score seem to come together for one last time as it dances on in a broad exploration of the main theme but the piece is robbed of true sense of closure as it comes to an abrupt close. But a tender refrain of the 'Neracian Dances' at last brings the music a full circle and draws the disc to a nigh perfect lyrical and enigmatic conclusion.

All I can say is that Michael Csányi-Wills' music for The King of Nerac is a surprise, and a highly positive surprise at that, the best possible way to discover a new voice in the field of film music. The soundtrack album is just the right length and draws you into its musical world of swirling instrumental lines, beautiful melodies and melancholy lyricism that is hard to resist. The minimalistic writing might be at times all too familiar to seasoned film music fans and can make you feel that everything on the album blurs into one constant motion as the music is full of motoric figures and little ostinati that spin restlessly ever on. But it is all luckily done for the most part with superb finesse by the composer, his fine orchestrations guaranteeing that the music never becomes unduly repetitive or uninteresting over the course of the running time of the soundtrack.

While the score does not as such explore much new ground it features a very entertaining and self-assuredly executed blending of styles and moods that is easy to recommend. Although it might not have makings of an instant classic it is in short modern, elegant, well-written, thoughtful and beautifully performed orchestral music well worth exploring and simultaneously works as a showcase of the obvious talents of this composer, one of whom we will hopefully hear more soon.

-Mikko Ojala

The King of Nerac is out now from MovieScore Media


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