AtonementDirector Joe Wright knows what he likes. After the success of 2005’s Pride & Prejudice (including Oscar nominations for both star Keira Knightley and composoer Dario Marianelli), Wright is seeking to recreate that magic both on the screen and on the music sheet with his adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement, the tragic tale of a young girl’s wrongful accusation and the effects on the lives of those involved. Also returning from the Pride & Prejudice score is French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, bringing a light, slightly haunted and desperate air to many of the tracks, including the achingly tragic “With My Own Eyes” and the romance/tragedy blend of “Love Letters.”  

Starting the album with the rhythmic click and clack of a typewriter, the mystery/adventure-themed “Briony” serves as somewhat of a character piece to the fledgling writer the track is named after: the 13-year-old girl who accuses her sister’s lover of a crime he didn’t commit and sets the rest of the story into motion. This opening track starts off slowly, with the tapping typewriter as the only sounds, but intrigue quickly blends into the musical story as a light piano and then pressing strings are added. Without going any farther into the album, it’s clear that this Italian composer knows how to work the score medium.

The English Chamber Orchestra masterfully captures Marianelli’s score, note by emotion-ridden note. But Marianelli is not content to stick solely with instrumentation. In the funereal “Elegy For Dunkirk,” the music heavily portrays the somber mood effectively, until a male choir fades in and brings the message out even more clearly. The same choir returns in the very next track (“Come Back”), before the entire song blends back into the original typewriter clattering and fast-paced piano of “Briony.” Though the  callback to an earlier theme risks sounding repetitious, it serves more as a throughline than a redundancy. And when organ music surges forth towards the end of the track, Marianelli is reminding his audience that like any good performer, you’ll never know what a composer will do next.

Wrapping things up quietly with “Atonement” and “Clair de Lune”, Marianelli softens the mood and exits gracefully. What he has constructed in his score for Atonement is an elegant, action-filled musical experience, centered around the theme of a little girl and her typewriter. Playing with subtly haunting melodies and tender, romantic moments, Marianelli has created a score that, like the movie itself, is equal parts tragedy and love story.

Zach’s Rating: A
Perfect For: A hint of haunting, a dash of depressing, and an ounce of uplifting
Stay Away if: It’s movies that you like, not their scores

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