Max Richter: Never Look Away (Original Film Soundtrack)
Max Richter (electronics), Byrn Lewis (harp), Andy Massey (piano), Air Lyndhurst Orchestra
Recording: Air Studios, London, England (March 5-7, 2018) – 71’15
Deutsche Grammophon 0289 483 6995 9 (Distributed by Universal Music Group) – No booklet notes
German filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Never Look Away was one of 2018’s most acclaimed international films, winning many awards including being nominated for an Oscar © for Best Foreign Film (it lost to Roma.) The music by Max Richter has also been acclaimed as one of the year’s best cine-scores. It is no surprise that the composer is much in demand (he also scored the 2018 film Mary Queen of Scots) as he is a master of soundscapes and narrative film music in many film genres.
Never Look Away is a drama about Kurt, a visual artist in Germany in the aftermath of the devastation of World War II. As a child, Kurt was first inspired by his aunt who took him to see ‘Entartete Kunst’ (‘Degenerate Art’) that the Nazis exhibited as a warning against free speech and expression. During the war, the Nazis euthanized Kurt’s aunt, branding her as a mental defective. After the war, Kurt is studying art in Dresden when he falls in love with a fashion design student whose father was the SS medical doctor who mercilessly decided his aunt’s fate.
The story, based on real people and events, is indeed dramatic, and Richter’s score features many of Richter’s somber compositional signatures that mix brooding soundscapes and dramatic orchestral resolves. Richter’s music often evokes a sense of emotional struggle and transition, and it is often equally visually evocative. It is no surprise either, that choreographers are inspired by his music as well.
The opening tracks of the Deutsche Grammophon soundtrack recording are meditative studies: ”The Mind’s Eye” and theme music for the two central characters, “Kurt & Elisabeth.” Richter seems reserved with what are often narrative symphonics for most of this score with miniature tone poems, but his signature symphonics burst forth in the lengthier development of “Enemy Lines” with a lurching string bassline, suggesting flight. The orchestral clouds of menace and entrances while the orchestral surge crashes in.
An intriguing musical interlude, “Sleeping Lions”, is a neo-baroque orchestral piece in a style that Richter showcased so effectively with his sensational re-imagining of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. In contrast, “The Interrogation” builds a static musical idea to create atmosphere until a darkly descending bass note march creeps up your spine, but the glacially moving sonics fade to black.
A central track, ”Your Pen, Your Sword”, has a drama all its own from the first lurching piano notes that drive into the film’s major orchestral drama, followed by “A Way Out” which strikes as filler, before it blooms with a stirring lower string dénouement, then an elegiac theme titled “Respite” that is this side of John Williams. Other tracks on this recording strike as generically ‘cinematic’, but in the context of the film, they are, perhaps, more engaging, sans visuals and fairly anemic.
Never Look Away has some interesting elements and a few dynamic tracks. As a stand-alone recording, though, much of it also seems like warmed over Richter.
Lewis J. Whittington