GRAND PIANO is a wonderfully taught and deliciously suspense filled drama. It stars Elijah Wood, John Cusack, Dee Wallace and Alex Winter. Who all perform outstandingly under the directorship of Eugenio Mira. The filmmaker has put together this vexing and urgent piece of cinema which is a superb thriller that is centred around just one performance that could be a matter of life and death. GRAND PIANO follows Tom Selznick(wood) who is a gifted pianist and one who is returning to the stage after an absence of five years, this was brought about by him giving a disastrous rendition of LA CINQUETTE which is also referred to as the unplayable piece. As you can imagine Selznick is nervous about his return but this is further impacted upon when he finds out he is to play the same piano that he performed on stage last. Plus he is given more pressure when he opens his score book to find written in large red letters PLAY ONE WRONG NOTE AND YOU DIE, (obviously Simon Cowell on a good day), So gripping and exciting stuff. The music is by Spanish born composer Victor Reyes, of course this Maestro has along with many of his fellow countryman who work as film composers had a steady and some what heady rise to prominence in the past five years or so and I for one am of the opinion that we have Spanish film music composers to thank for the re-emergence of the fully symphonic soundtrack in recent years. Ok I know John Williams
and also John Barry
and Jerry Goldsmith
were probably the main composers to bring back into play the fully orchestral film score, Williams in-particular evoking the music of the golden age of cinema with his rip roaring scores for STAR WARS etc. But film music from Spain has you have to admit been of the highest quality and at times has certainly outstripped and outshone scores from Hollywood in more recent times, so much so that Hollywood turned to Spanish composers to score big budget movies, introducing film music collectors to a whole new legion of composers. GRAND PIANO contains a classical sounding score, which given the films subject matter should not come as a surprise. Reyes music is glorious and opulent and at times evokes memories of THE LEGEND OF THE GLASS MOUNTAIN and even THE WARSAW CONCERTO, but it is more than just a piano concerto, in fact the music works on a number of levels, firstly it is the music being performed in concert and is richly decadent and wonderfully entertaining and inspiring, filled with passion and emotion. Secondly it works as a film score, it supports the action on screen and combined with some clever camera shots and split second editing it is able to create such a tense and also at times urgent atmosphere. Then it entertains as just music, away from the images and totally away from the movie, after all it is a concerto and successfully works as a stand alone piece of music, the composer has managed to relay moods that are filled with romance and written dramatic and also unsettling themes in abundance that ooze a nervous tension and also have about them a sense of desperation and frustration.
The composer supports the central instrument (piano) with wonderfully lush and lavish sounding strings that are romantically led but also have an underlying sense of the macabre or dangerous, these emotions are further added to by the support of percussion and also brass that punctuate and stab at times within the work. I think the composer has succeeded in creating a work that serves the movie extremely well but also there is no doubt at all that one could listen to this music all day and not tire of it without the images it was intended to enhance. There have been a few comments about the music in the movie being performed by synthesised means, I cannot be certain but I am of the opinion that this is probably not the case, the work sounds to robust, too rounded and rich ,but there again I could be wrong. The opening theme for the score is a riveting piece, and has I think affiliations with both Ennio Morricone
and French composer, Jacques Loussier
, Reyes utilizes a dark and threatening piano that almost lumbers into the cue and introduces a gradual build up of the theme, strings and a collection of percussive elements add to the proceedings and create a somewhat complex and shadowy atmosphere,
if you have heard the opening theme for THE DARK OF THE SUN by Loussier you will know what I am referring to, the opening builds and builds creating a nervous tension as it does so, but ends abruptly leaving the listener almost dangling in mid air suffering from anxiety. The movie itself is I think a throwback from the past, or at least the plot seems to be straight out of Hitchcock’s book on how to make a drama, but at least it is an entertaining piece of cinema that has one on the edge of your seat, and keeps you entertained throughout. Reyes energetic and beautifully powerful music greatly aids the tension and fraught atmosphere and is certainly more than a background or a film score. Both film and score are highly recommended.
Read other recent reviews by John Mansell: Addio, Fratello Crudele
, The Dark Side of Light