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The Russia House
Album Cover Art
1990 MCA
2017 Quartet
Album 2 Cover Art
Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:

Orchestrated by:
Arthur Morton

Principal Solos by:
Branford Marsalis
Michael Lang
John Patitucci
Labels Icon
MCA Records
(December 11th, 1990)

Quartet Records
(December 7th, 2017)
Availability Icon
The 1990 MCA album is a regular U.S. release. The 2017 Quartet Records album was limited to only 1,000 copies and sold out within a month of its release at an initial price of $20.
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   Availability | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... if you can avoid becoming clinically depressed by the most painfully stylish and longingly beautiful score of Jerry Goldsmith's long career.

Avoid it... if bittersweet music for jazz trio, string orchestra, and snazzy synthetic rhythms are simply too sparse in construct to inspire you.
Review Icon
WRITTEN 12/13/96, REVISED 1/5/18
The Russia House: (Jerry Goldsmith) If a single film and its music could define the word "bittersweet" better than any other, The Russia House would be the champion example. The potentially explosive adaptation of John LeCarre's novel needs no introduction to the concepts of depression and oppression, and despite the story's famously distraught conclusion, audiences were seemingly unprepared for either the gloom of the story or the distorted and confusing ending of its adaptation. The film fell short of all expectations at the time, though the lead performances by Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer were well enough praised. The espionage story was the first major American production ever to be shot on location in the former Soviet Union, with a sharp, somewhat technological edge driving its fear factor. Perhaps the most critical element of The Russia House is its extremely memorable soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith, a score with about as much frustration and depression built into the circumstances of its creation as the story of The Russia House itself. Goldsmith first conjured the beautiful theme for this film in 1987 for Wall Street, and when he left that film due to creative differences with the filmmakers, he adapted the melody into his electronic score for Alien Nation the following year. Being that the 1988 alien/cop drama was so wretchedly awful, however, Goldsmith wasn't particularly disappointed when his score was completely rejected from the finished product. His bold and longing love theme for Alien Nation was realized in that film's cue "The Wedding," but never did it truly take flight until it was altered slightly, improving its romantic flow in three places, and handed to an accomplished jazz trio for The Russia House in 1990. Goldsmith's approach to the genuine locale was countered by an interestingly American approach to scoring the visuals, infusing a slight edge of old-style noir into the picture. He took a chance by composing an almost exclusively jazzy atmosphere outside of the pure suspense sequences, building off of the Barley (Connery) character's performance of the saxophone in the film.

To address the concept of espionage, and not to mention Connery himself, Goldsmith inserts a slight touch of James Bond's mechanical instrumentation, making restrained but smart use of his library of synthetic rhythm-setters. To address the danger of the romance, he offers us a glimpse of the ominously nervous strings that audiences would eventually hear in full for Basic Instinct. The most surprising aspect of the score for The Russia House is its simplicity in instrumentation and repetition. It's hard to imagine how a score of this minuscule size and scope could be so overwhelming in its appeal. That might say something about Goldsmith's raw talent, and perhaps it speaks to three years of development on the concepts. His base elements are simple; a jazz trio handles the majority of the themes and underscore, with saxophone performances by Branford Marsalis (both scripted and improvised) that are nothing short of spectacular. Never once does he quiver unintentionally or even slightly miss a note. Perfection is bliss. Michael Lang is equally renown for his fabulous piano performances, and he delicately establishes an elevated level of classy bar room atmosphere for Marsalis' sax. The bass, performed by John Patitucci, has a larger role in the score, not only providing a rhythm for the other two jazz performers, but also handling a large portion of the underscore. It is during these sequences with the bass that Goldsmith utilizes his electronics to his fullest. With his knowledge of synthesized integration having matured since the experimental days of Legend and Hoosiers, Goldsmith's electronics are almost identically appealing in both the concurrent 1990 releases of Total Recall and The Russia House. The James Bond aspect of the spy tale called for the presence of techno-savvy subterfuge, and thus, the use of Goldsmith's wide array of synthesized sounds keeps a consistent rhythm set throughout the score. Most of these sounds are common, light, upper-range, chime-like keyboarding from Goldsmith's library, though the incorporation of a "release of air" effect, as heard in the middle of "Introductions," is unique to this score.

Not always are the solo bass and electronics geared towards suspense, though. The third element of Goldsmith's score is the reasonably sized string section, which is added to provide a whimsical effect for the grand, romantic performances of the main theme and a secondary idea for Pfeiffer's Katya character. During these moments, the electronics cease their systematic beats and blossom into chimes and twinkles. No better of an example exists than the finale of the film, when the dream-like "The Family Arrives" sequence provides a false sense of hope at an otherwise doomed finish to the story. During these elegant performances of Goldsmith's cherished love theme, the sax, strings, and piano rotate in their pronouncement of the theme, with all three together occasionally blowing the listener away with stunning aural beauty (such as "Bon Voyage"). Over half of the score, though, consists of the suspenseful underscore previously mentioned, with the bass and electronics leading the way. Goldsmith throws in two more elements during these sequences. First, some very light percussion, crisply recorded, keeps the film moving at a preset tempo. To do this, Goldsmith integrates the clicking of a metronome (the device by which instrument performers set their tempo in practice) right into the scheme of the recording. Only a snippet of traditional jazz band percussion is used, such as the light cymbal tapping during the faster rhythmic opening to "Training." Assessing the need for a slight Soviet influence on the score, Goldsmith also composes for the duduk and balalaika, the former being an Armenian instrument that will sound, to the common American ear, like a low, fluttering woodwind instrument. These elements are combined well with Goldsmith's American jazz, leading to a very smooth and listenable hour of music. The duduk is employed in a creative way so that it almost sounds as though it's a naturally lower progression of the sax, increasing both instruments' emotional range at moments like the end of "The Meeting." Cues that merge these woodwind sounds, as well as the metronome and synthetics, with some slight improvisation from the lead trio, as in "Crossing Over," are a delight.

Ratings Icon
Average: 4.29 Stars
***** 3,283 5 Stars
**** 1,116 4 Stars
*** 440 3 Stars
** 306 2 Stars
* 220 1 Stars
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The Russia House Reissued on Quartet Records
Carlos García - September 20, 2021, at 12:21 a.m.
1 comment  (13 views)
Goldsmith/Russia House Documentary
Willie Gluckstern - January 6, 2013, at 10:57 a.m.
1 comment  (1285 views)
Documentary about Russia House score
Willie Gluckstern - August 12, 2008, at 10:23 a.m.
1 comment  (2742 views)
Best [bleep!] by Goldsmith *NM*
Sherlock - March 15, 2008, at 3:22 p.m.
1 comment  (2165 views)
Wonderful score
Faith in Christ - August 14, 2004, at 10:30 p.m.
1 comment  (3463 views)
Horrible Score!
John - August 13, 2004, at 8:38 p.m.
1 comment  (3687 views)

Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
1990 MCA Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 61:34
• 1. Katya (3:57)
• 2. Introductions (3:12)
• 3. The Conversation (4:13)
• 4. Training (2:01)
• 5. Katya and Barley (2:32)
• 6. First Name, Yakov (2:53)
• 7. Bon Voyage (2:11)
• 8. The Meeting (3:59)
• 9. I'm With You* (2:39)
• 10. Alone in the World - performed by Patti Austin (4:09)
• 11. The Gift (2:34)
• 12. Full Marks (2:27)
• 13. Barley's Love (3:24)
• 14. My Only Country (4:34)
• 15. Crossing Over (4:13)
• 16. The Deal (4:09)
• 17. The Family Arrives (7:38)
* contains music composed by Cole Porter
2017 Quartet Album Tracks   ▼Total Time: 75:57

Notes Icon
The insert of the 1990 MCA album includes no extra information about the score or film. That of the 2017 Quartet album contains notation about both. Sean Connery does not perform the sax himself as depicted in the film.
Copyright © 1996-2021, Filmtracks Publications. All rights reserved.
The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten
or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from The Russia House are Copyright © 1990, 2017, MCA Records, Quartet Records and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 12/13/96 and last updated 1/5/18.
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