Woman In Gold- Score Review

Release Date: 1st April 2015 (DIGITAL RELEASE)
                        1st June 2015 (PHYSICAL RELEASE)
Composer(s): Martin Phipps & Hans Zimmer
Length: 40:47 (36:19 as score alone)
Recorded At: By the London Sessions Orchestra
Label: Sony Music Classical


Why You Should…
Within this excruciatingly short but tempered soundtrack, therein lies an impactful contribution from Phipps, and some guest noteworthy performances by Zimmer.

Why You Shouldn’t…
If arthouse scores are venomous to the less stagnant mind, for this effort will instead serve as a gentle lullaby.

The obsession with art as a prized possession and/or personal belonging is an ancient concept when it comes to Hollywood. Still, yet deep, nuanced and layered, these timeless paintings serve as a quiet, subtle reflection of influence. Such is the case of Maria Altmann, an elderly Jewish refugee who had relocated to Los Angeles just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Aged, yet relentless in her familial pursuit, WOMAN IN GOLD is the biopic of how she fought with resilience to secure a series of paintings of her ancestors from the art restitution board in Austria. The eponymous title refers to her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, and the film’s narrative follows Helen Mirren(Tatiana Maslany in her younger years) in a bid to reclaim her rightful possession from the restitution, even escalating as far as the Supreme Court of the United States. Her victory is fondly remembered by officials and admirers as the Republic of Austria V Altmann 2004, and showcases a strong supporting performance by Ryan Reynolds as her persevering advocate. Directed by Simon Curtis, mixed reviews awaited the film.

As convention would have it, relatively obscure composer Martin Phipps, famed for his contributions to the BBC would collaborate with the ever-popular Hans Zimmer, to score this courthouse drama. Phipps, whose last noteworthy release was the cult TV program Peaky Blinders, would gain wider exposure with the scale of the cast and crew involved within the project, and for Zimmer, it was merely another prototypical day in the office, having scored the robotic dystopian film, CHAPPIE. The most interesting aspect to observe about their collaborative efforts is the unexpected, definite identification of their respective efforts on the score. With only two songs mildly interrupting the cohesive flow, the end result is a short soundtrack that garners intimate moments.

Ignoring the opening blues number ‘O Mary Don’t You Weep’ by Deren Johnson, Phipps’ contribution opens the score, with ‘Hotel Jazz’– a cue that lives up to its title, with warm piano playfully conveying the stereotypical hotel scenery, while subtly acknowledging Phipps’ sublime investment in the niche genre. Zimmer’s first chord appears after ‘Deh, Vieni Alla Finestra’ by Dawid Kimberg in ‘Restless’. The contrast of the piano writing between the two is evident, with Zimmer opting for an eerie echoing soundscape. It does, however convey the title’s meaning well, with haunting strings towards the end.
‘Maria Altmann’ is Phipps’ character suite for the protagonist, the melancholy, sorrowful atmosphere integrating with her age and internal emptiness in workmanlike fashion. The piano is the focus of the score, a tired but nevertheless effective technique applied by composers when scoring war-related films. There is a sense of mild beauty fragmented within the theme, and succeeds in reaching a lusher feel in the listener. Phipps continues with ‘The Beldevere’, the electronic manipulation for atmospheric finality more invasive yet effective with touch. The lonesome piano continues to sing in the darkness, but is thankfully backed by some interesting string writing, with the cello resounding emotively. Generic droning occupies the latter half of the cue, a shame considering the promise the opening showed within the cue.

‘Vienna’ marks Zimmer’s return. It is curious that Zimmer has only scored six of the cues, a refreshing change from his dominance in prior collaborations. It is, however, equally refreshing to hear him explore the piano further, a refection of his more raw tendencies. The cue does boast some of Zimmer’s more intelligent writing, abysmally downplayed by the abrupt ending. Phipps also handles the character suite for ‘Randy Schoenberg’, as well as co-writing the next cue ‘Open The Door’ with Zimmer. The former cue pulsates with electronica, a more rhythmic force driving the piano this time. The chord progression is a commendable area, having heard only tepid sequencing thus far. The latter cue opens with a nostalgic cello, and brooding (at last!) strings help further enunciate Altmann’s tragic past. The cello whines helplessly, and thirst for instrumental variation is satisfied adequately.  ‘Apotheke’ opts for a solemn brass/woodwind start, with Gladiator– like melodic development. The piano pervades the piece again, with discord effectively used. ‘Fleeing Vienna’ is the lengthiest cue at four minutes by Zimmer, as discordant piano and wavering warm pads(?) mature into string writing of a tense calibre. One of the better suspense cues in Zimmer’s illustrious career, the sinister horns are heard halfway into the cue, and harsh force is unleashed. The evacuation and resulting separation from family is well depicted in this cue, Zimmer’s minimal style painting the on-screen tension very well. He continues with ‘Flight 12 To Cologne’, the eerie moods more resonating this time. A low register, constant pounding is the backbone of the cue, and gives a sinking feeling. It is however, Zimmer’s weakest cue in terms of melody, though the brass work is subtly handled.

Phipps returns briefly in ‘First Hurdle Down’, the tonality differentiation a godsend in this otherwise troubled score. One of the better cues in this short effort. The growing promise on the strings and the pulsating electronics is complemented with warm piano.  ‘Art Theft’ is Zimmer’s last cue in this OST,  the descending piano sequences somewhat of a highlight against the distorted piano. The majority of his statements, particularly on the horns are evocative of Sherlock Holmes. Zimmer’s two note progressions are his calling card, this time opting for a more conventional, lighter, fleeting approach. The variation in tonality, more than compensates. Phipps takes responsibility for the remainder of the score, with ‘Statues’. The minimal strings and electronics contrast nicely, the raw cello against the brooding synths offering a brief highlight. ‘Final Testimony’ takes advantage of the lonely piano once more, with an appealing statement in the higher regions, mildly conveying a sense of finality. The score alone is simplistic, but adequately gives life to the presence on screen. A crescendo can be seen as a bit of a refreshment!
Slow horns and strings are heard in ‘The Language Of Our Future’, the clarinet/woodwinds in general taking control over the cellos and violins. A hint of refined classical elegance is what gives this cue some life, though at its own gradual pace. There is a sense of optimism layered within the cue, and supposedly, that does say something. The piano returns for the final cue, ‘I Lived Here’, as the cellos aid the soft piano in conveying nostalgia and finality. The strings are given resurrection for this final cue.

From an analytical point of view, it’s hard to assess this score in one single take, because the slow tempi and sole reliance on the piano alone will lull listeners to sleep. While Zimmer does make an impact in his contributions, with more refined and gentler exploration, Phipps is the composer who ultimately carries the voice of Altmann on his shoulders. Repeated listens are required to fully appreciate the work at hand, but deep within its brief pieces, there are melodious highlights to be sought. For a film like this, unfortunately, it inevitably deserves better. The lowering of expectations can prove key to your opinion on this score.

Music in connection to the film: [***] 3/5
Music as a sole listening experience: [**1/2] 2.5/5

Overall Consensus: [** 1/2] 2.5/5

Track Listing:
1) O Mary Don’t You Weep- Deren Johnson
2) Hotel Jazz (Phipps)
3) Deh, Vieni Alla Finestra – Dawid Kimberg
4) Restless (Zimmer)
5) Maria Altmann (Phipps)
6) The Beldevere (Phipps)
7) Vienna (Zimmer)
8) Randy Schoenberg (Phipps)
9) Open The Door (Zimmer, Phipps)
10) Apotheke (Phipps)
11) Fleeing Vienna (Zimmer)
12) Flight 12 To Cologne (Zimmer)
13) First Hurdle Down (Phipps)
14) Art Theft (Zimmer)
15) Statues (Phipps)
16) Final Testimony (Phipps)
17) The Language Of The Future (Phipps)
18) I Lived Here (Phipps)

Author: Hari Haran

Fan of films, TV shows and film composers en general. I'm a fan of you too.

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