Over ten years ago, American Composers Orchestra commissioned Serenada Schizophrana to be performed at the Carnegie Hall in 2005. It was Danny Elfman’s first symphonic concert work and was subsequently released to great reviews on CD. Since then, he started exploring the other avenues and rediscovered his love for “pure music”, unchained from moving images. Rabbit & Rogue is technically a second ballet to feature his music: after the Edward Scissorhands adaptation done by composer Terry Davies in 2005. But this one is not based around any of his film work and was developed solely by Efman for the American Ballet Theatre and the Orange County Performing Arts Center. It premiered in 2008 but only now it became available on album (the recording was captured in Berlin a couple of years ago).
Unlike many esteemed film composers, like Herrmann or Williams, Elfman never had a desire to be particularly respected and/or accepted by academia. His concert pieces are joyful and colourful extensions of his film world and they are meant to primarily entertain. They are not designed to impress with its self-important aspirations. It’s all about having fun with musical ideas and running wild with imagination. In his works, Danny manages to explore ideas that could never be sustained in a feature film, given its restrictive nature, and it tt’s certainly refreshing to hear his imagination explode to such proportions. After the excellent Serenada Schizophrana, Rabbit & Rogue continues this trend in style and it might be even more assured.
The ballet is unmistakably the work of Danny Elfman and yet it doesn’t really sound like any of his film works. There is a sense of constant perpetum mobile, very much signature element of his style, his music rarely stops to breathe. The fun never ends! There is also a greater sense of detail that still eludes most modern film composers. Elfman is becoming a master of colour and flair, the orchestrations are truly superb. While the thematic material is based around very simple ideas, the arrangements reach the new level of complexity.
The ballet is divided into six movements. The brief ‘Intro’ introduces what will become most prominent ideas throughout this album, including the rising and falling circular main theme. After this brief overture, we start to explore the material further with much lengthier pieces. ‘Frolic’ makes a heavy use of light percussion and piano. As the title itself suggests, ‘Gamelan’ makes extensive use of the Indonsian percussion ensemble within larger orchestral setting and it’s here that the main theme is explored to its fullest potential. It goes through various arrangements and different colours. Elfman makes a wonderful use of woodwind section and there is something almost John Williams-like about the religioso and wondrous string writing in this movement’s latter half.
‘Rag’, as could be expected, features a syncopated jaunty piano performances, as well as the quirky mechanical sound effects. It’s very much a modern interpretation of early 20th century popular music genre. The brass becomes a prominent player later on as the movement develops and becomes grander. It’s so much fun. In the brief ‘Lyric’, the moody sax takes over and darkens the tone a notch with its melancholic qualities. ‘Finale’ opens with a truly Prokofiev-like string passages that merges perfectly with Elfman’s own carnivalesque tendencies. In a truly satisfying way, this climax finally brings together all the thematic material from previous movements.
Rabbit & Rogue is Elfman at the height of its skills and creative energies, completely unleashed from the restrictions of film medium. The composer is exploring his ideas in much longer pieces and it feels truly fulfilling to his listeners. He proves that he’s not only a great “film composer”, but a truly gifted “composer”. In any genre. His ability of merging influences from many, seemingly unrelated, sources helps him create concert music that is accessible and relatable to wider audiences and feels very much at home in the crazy modern world. The 45- minutes long Sony Classical album is a must have and one also hopes for a physical CD and vinyl releases somewhere in near future.
Rabbit & Rogue is out as a digital download from Sony Classical