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Hello everyone,

 

even though I've been secretly reading this forum for years, this is my first post and I'd like to start with a review of a quite recently released compilation of rather obscure film music, even for a long-time film music fan like myself. "The Film Music of Mark Isaacs Vol. 1" is a 2-disk set released by Australian soundtrack label 1M1-Records in April 2020. It is a compilation of four nowadays more or less unknown cartoon scores from the 80s.

 

A short introduction to the composer, who is unfortunately rather unknown for most folks around here I'm afraid: Mark is both a trained jazz pianist as well a studied classical symphonist, and his concert works (including two symphonies) remarkably combine European compositional techniques of the late 19th century with subtle jazz elements, but there are also influences of New Music (especially free tonality, expressionism, etc.). For his relatively short excursion into the field of film music during the 80's and early 90's, however, Mark was mainly guided by classical golden age scores in the style of Korngold and Steiner. However, he has developed a refreshingly independent tonal language in which – despite the respective historical setting – a bit of jazz yglamour shines through... like some well-placed seventh chord or fanfares with swing-like ternary rhythms. Film music of this kind, although written children's films, is not something you find every day.

 

Now to the four individual suites compiled by 1M1:

 

A Tales of Two Cities: Mark's first film music ever is also his most avant-garde on this compilation. He uses a very large orchestra in all its timbres, including alternative playing techniques such as Col legno in the strings, pitch bending on the timpani, etc. Nevertheless, the music remains strongly influenced by leitmotifs, which helps attentive listening and gives the score in some parts even some Wagnerian moments. The passages for the courtly scenes, however, are more reminiscent of Elgar. Even though I do not want to understate the music in any way, this score is the least tangible of the four for me, personally. Perhaps this is also due to the rather dark/tragic setting of the Dickens story (Robespierre's reign of terror after 1793).

 

The Adventures of Robin Hood: The music for this 1985 Errol Flyy-inspired animation is clearly based in the swashbuckling genre and, if it comes to me, is together with Ivanhoe the strongest of the four suites. The entire suite is dominated by a heroic theme reminiscent of Korngold. In 22 minutes, this easily delivers everything you could ask for from a swashbuckling adventure score about castles, knights and sword fights. Also pleasant are the quieter passages, which utilize flutes, lyres and hand drums (in the recording probably rather acoustic guitars) to create a pseudo-authentic medieval market feeling.

 

Ivanhoe: Basically I like Ivanhoe as much as Robin Hood after listening to this score for the second time. Both suites glide wonderfully into each other. No wonder, since they share the same setting. wink This is most obvious in the track "Ivanhoe Meets Robin Hood", which quotes Robin's main motif from the previous score in a musically very interesting way. Hm, what could be the reason for this? ;) For film music fanboys, the fanfare associated with King Richard with two quart jumps right at the beginning might sound a bit familiar, as it somehow creates a certain spaced-out feeling, like going on a Star Trek or something ;)

 

Rob Roy: Strictly speaking, this last suite is probably the weakest of the compilation, but considering the brilliant music here, that doesn't mean anything at all! There's a much smaller orchestra, rather entertaining humorous mini-cues strung together and more or less clichéd cartoon-like orchestrations. But because of the Irish-Celtic influences (actually it should be Scottish, I think big :D) especially in the accompaniment the whole thing gets a lively folkloric drive and climbs up to a majestic final fanfare with "Rob Roy Pardoned". A worthy finale!

 

Conclusion: A very worthwhile album by former "part-time" film composer Mark Isaacs with great adventure-film music. Especially score enthusiasts, who like me have been "in business" for a while and urgently need new, previously unknown material, and who can hum all the main themes of the likes of Goldsmith, Williams or Horner in their sleep, should seize this opportunity. Even if you have to expect a delivery time of two to three months for orders from Australia, it's definitely worth the wait!

 

Best regards from Germany,

 

Dustin

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I'm vaguely familiar with Isaacs, but only by name. I've never heard anything by him. So thanks for the review; looks like an interesting disc.

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