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Alexandre Desplat: Airlines

Alexandre Desplat: Airlines - album cover The "Airlines" album is a good fit for mfiles, since it reflects our aim to cover both film and classical music in a single place. You could describe "Airlines" as a concept album, where the unifying concept is that all the tracks are composed by French composer Alexandre Desplat and scored for the combination of flute and orchestra. Many people will think of Desplat solely as a film composer, albeit an A-list composer with several high profile films to his name, not to mention two oscars and many other awards on his mantelpiece. The composer is a flautist himself so he has a natural affinity for the instrument featuring it in many of his film scores, but on this album he has collaborated with the flautist Emmanuel Pahud. As previously hinted the music is a mixture of original concert music and adaptations of the composer's film scores, and despite the re-use of film score material all the tracks as presented here are essentially new releases.

The album kicks off with an extended track based on the composer's oscar-winning music for the movie "The Shape of Water" which was written and directed by Guillermo del Toro and released in 2017. The score for "The Shape of Water" already featured flutes so this is already a good candidate for this album. The flute also replaces the whistling heard in the film score. This new arrangement retains the Bandoneon, though in the context of this album it can be thought of as a French accordian. This new flute version also concentrates on the character development and love themes from the movie, leaving out most of the darker material, yet introducing some gorgeous flute runs as one of the track's highlights. The flute certainly doesn't dominate the track like in a concerto, it's more of a feature role allowing space for the rest of the orchestra.

Track 2 is the first movement of "Pelléas et Mélisande" and is a stark contrast in terms of mood and genre. There is an urgency about it with much more virtuoso moments for the flautist, yet again it is not wall-to-wall flute, with orchestral sections getting the opportunity to shine. Unlike the film-based tracks this concentrates more on texture rather than melody. Track 3 is very mysterioso and enigmatic, yet very beautiful. Track 4 begins like a hybrid of Ravel and Stravinsky, still textural and mysterious, and gradually building with the flute having some wonderful virtuoso moments, some intense orchestral chords with the flute dancing above them, until a return to an enigmatic peace. All in all Desplat's Pelléas et Mélisande is a wonderful piece of musical painting and I've no doubt it is only a matter of time before it is heard in a concert setting (covid rules permitting).

Alexandre Desplat "Lust, Caution" is a 2007 film which I'd not previously heard of. It is directed by Ang Lee and described in wikipedia as an "erotic espionage period film" set in Hong Kong and Shanghai during WWII. Certainly you could imagine it as some sultry moments from a Bond movie nestled between the bombastic action tracks. "Girl with a Pearl Earring" is better known and starts with the main theme. The flute sometimes carries the melody and sometimes provides an accompaniment of runs or arpeggios, or sometimes sits back. I've always enjoyed the score for "Birth" and it is pleasing to find it included here. He manages to conjure quite a lot of interesting sooundscapes from a small set of ideas. This is the score where Desplat first used his characteristic detacted repetitions on flute, which were later to appear in The Shape of Water. Some nice hunting horn figures, then low strings and timpani seem to prefigure his "Young persons Guide" material as heard in "Moonrise Kingdom".

The title track "Airlines" is a work for solo flute allowing Emmanuel Pahud to take centre stage. With no obvious dividing lines the work seems to evolve through various stages through smooth transitions, although some repetition of gestures provide unity. It showcases what the flute is capable of, with straight forward melodic fragments and runs, but also uses more avant garde techniques with some microtones, multiphonics and note bending, flutter tonguing, overblowing and wind effects, possibly with circular breathing to achieve the long sustained note towards the end. Effects like these in some instruments might sound harsh, but the tone of the flute (and Pahud's mastery) is such that the whole is a pleasant experience on the ear. Desplat is an expert at whimsy (witness "Fantastic Mr. Fox") and the album ends with a whimsical track based on Desplat's oscar-winning music for "The Grand Budapest Hotel", again allowing the opportunities for the flute yet with plenty to occupy the rest of the orchestra.

With this album Desplat spreads his wings. While retaining some familiar hooks from a film scoring background, he removes the constraints generally associated with film scoring and presents his music in a new light. The composer demonstrates both his understanding of the flute and his genre-bending flexibility. It is clear Desplat is an orchestral painter par excellence. Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

Reviewer: Jim Paterson

Airlines by Alexandre Desplat - album Track Listing

As previously mentioned the flautist on the album is Emmanuel Pahud. The Orchestre National de France is conducted by Alexandre Desplat himself. The Artistic Director for the album is Solrey aka violinist Dominique Lemonnier who is married to the composer.

    Alexandre Desplat: Airlines - album back cover
  • 1. The Shape of Water (11:08)
  • 2-4. Pelléas et Mélisande (19:20) - Symphonie concertante: new work première recording
  • I. Comme un oiseau pourchassé (7:38)
  • II. Ils regardent la lumière (5:22)
  • III. Rosée de plomb, inexorables ténèbres (6:19)
  • 5. Lust, Caution (2:22)
  • 6. Girl with a Pearl Earring (7:27)
  • 7. Birth (7:36)
  • 8. Airlines (4:20) - new work première recording
  • 9. The Grand Budapest Hotel (4:08)