John Corigliano – Music from the Edge

4 out of 5

Label: Perseverance Records

Produced by: John Corigliano, Teese Gohl and Robin Esterhammer

Very heavy stuff, right from the outset.

I’m told that orchestral concerts tell a story, but without knowing the narrative ahead of time, I’m not sure my dumb ears would be able to pick it out. That’s not discredit to the many composers skilled at such things, rather that I’ve not developed either the musical education or attention span to “understand” what’s being played. Hasn’t often been my bag.

I was first exposed to John Corigliano through his Altered States score, and was, to put it mildly, incredibly impressed. This didn’t read like a film score, exactly, but perfectly functioned as one – the cues are there, the storytelling is there, and you can map it to a hallucinatory experiment a la the movie, it just equally feels like its own experience. Both the story of Altered States the score, and the music of the film exist separately and together.

Sampling other work from Corigliano proved that this was not a fluke: the composer excels in creating incredible tension via juxtapositions of gentleness and extremity; control and chaos. And this is also true on the alarming, nervy score for Edge of Darkness – an unused “concert suite” that the crazies behind the film decided to replace with a score from Howard Shore – which has moments of thematic tenderness that give way to killer horns and wind instruments, shifting back and forth with sudden intensity during off-beat rhythms, keeping us tied tight to the story that is being told: one of loss; one of anger; one of pursuance. This chase holds us from nearly the start (nearly – this is the only hitch) and does not let go in its approach, back and forth, until final track Reunification, adding vocals and underlining the inherent sadness found in the main theme that floats throughout.

The seamlessness of the score really begins with Pursuit; track 4. From there on out it is an absolute ride. Leading into this, though, Corigliano seems to have trouble “breaking” the story, and we sort of get the introduction – the loss of the protagonist’s daughter – told a couple times, in His Daughter’s Death, and again between Reflections and Her Home. These tracks play with the juxtapositions, and importantly bring in that theme, but extending this all to one long buildup track – from the soft and dour to the loud and angry – would’ve made the whole experience one unbroken, emotional thrill.