CD Review—Radiohead Star Offers Orchestral Maneuvers That Are Stark
The latest film score from Jonny Greenwood is a moving experience
Norwegian Wood. BBC Concert Orchestra; the Emperor Quartet; CAN. (Nonesuch)
As a member of the hit experimental pop band Radiohead, Jonny Greenwood contributes guitar, bass, viola, and keyboards, as well as a lot of post-Warholesque style and attitude. As a composer, the 39-year-old Jonathan Richard Guy Greenwood has made his mark on the music scene. His solo project Popcorn Superhet Receiver—which featured former Kronos Quartet cellist Joan Jenrenaud—earned the Radio 3 Listener’s Choice nod at the 2006 BBC British Composer Awards. He’s served as a composer-in-residence with the BBC Concert Orchestra and penned the film scores for There Will Be Blood, Bodysong, and, most recently, Norwegian Wood, a big-screen adaptation of the work by the acclaimed Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami.
It’s a diverse score—a mix of orchestral music (performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra, under Rebecca Turner), edgy rock, occasional electronic effects, and chamber music—featuring everything from vocals, buzz-saw guitars, a string quartet, acoustic guitar, and other instrumentation. The tracks range from the orchestral overture “Mou Sukoshi Jibun no Koto, Kichinto Shitaino” to the nursery rhyme-turned-raucous rock song “Mary, Mary So Contrary” (performed by CAN, one of three songs performed by the British avant-pop band) to the towering Baroque-inspired “Mata Aini Kuru kara Ne,” which would be right at home on the soundtrack of the futuristic sci-fi epic Blade Runner.
As Radiohead fans know, Greenwood has an ear for melody. And he delivers one with richly textured counterpoint on “Reiko,” which is performed by the Emperor Quartet (Martin Burgess and Clare Hayes, violins; Fiona Bonds, viola; and William Schofield, cello; with guests John Metcalfe, viola; and Joely Koos, cello). Greenwood is at his best when he juxtaposes the beautiful with the disturbing, as he does on “Naoko ga Shinda,” in which a stunning violin solo is played over the eerie legato of the orchestra’s string section playing a descending passage that sounds like the entire orchestra is detuning.
The richly wrought string arrangements return on “Ate mo Naku Aruki Mawatta” and the pastoral opening strains of “Quartertone Bloom.”
But for the most part, Greenwood has little interest in falling back on simple musical themes, choosing instead to build his highly evocative film music on shifts in mood and tone and texture. You might not walk away whistling a tune, but you won’t be unmoved.