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Never Let Me Go
  • Composed by Rachel Portman
  • Varese Sarabande / 2010 / 41:33

Based on the acclaimed novel by Kazuo Ishiguru (is there any other kind of novel by Kazuo Ishiguru?), Never Let Me Go tells the difficult story of a trio of people “bred” in a society which creates test tube babies explicitly for the purpose of using them as organ donors when they reach adulthood.  Composer Rachel Portman is nowhere near as prolific these days as she was when her career was at its peak in the 1990s; then, as now, she was (possibly by choice) typecast as a composer who wrote light, fluffy scores for generally light, fluffy films.  On the rare occasions she doesn’t score light, fluffy films, she generally still writes light, fluffy scores (with exceptions, of course).  Clearly, Never Let Me Go is as far from a light, fluffy film as you can get – and, delightfully, this means Portman moves away from her usual sound.  (I can confirm that this already holds the record for the highest number of times “light, fluffy” has been used in a soundtrack review.)

While Never Let Me Go sees Portman using her standard orchestral approach (strings, horns, wind solos), the score does see prominent solo roles for cello and violin, which are written and performed beautifully.  And the themes, too – there’s an air of tragedy throughout this which is truly haunting, the composer keeping the music melodic and beautiful but very rarely happy.  She has been bizarrely compared with Georges Delerue throughout her career, something I’ve never fathomed, but this score does actually remind me a little of film music’s master melodist – there’s not just the surface-level beauty, there’s something behind it too, an emotional depth which elevates the score considerably higher than the norm.  There are moments of what might be called prototypical Portman, like the delightful “To the Cottages”; here they are a welcome additional shade to the score’s palette and never a feeling of just hearing the same schtick yet again.  I can’t have been the only person who got tired of buying a new Portman score and discovering that it was virtually identical to 95% of the rest of them – at last, here’s something new.  Its beauty is typical of the composer; but its depth beyond that beauty is considerable.  This may just be her most impressive album to date.  ****

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  1. A. Rubinstein (Reply) on Friday 21 January, 2011 at 14:48

    I actually like Portman best in her light, fluffy mode. I still haven’t heard Never Let Me Go (and possibly this score will shatter my theory), but until now whenever she tried to step aside from her comfort zone (as in Hart’s War, Beloved, The Manchurian Candidate etc.) the results were far from satisfying. Her finest works to date were either for romantic comedies or period dramas, both of which she consistently does very well. Some composers should just recognize their limitations and do what they do best.

  2. James Southall (Reply) on Sunday 23 January, 2011 at 10:40

    I didn’t like Beloved or The Manchurian Candidate at all – this is nothing like those. It’s more like a slightly more serious deviation from her familiar style than a complete departure.

  3. Juanki (Reply) on Sunday 23 January, 2011 at 10:55

    James, you say this could be Portman’s most impressive album to date but I recall you liked a lot “Chocolat”. As I love this last one, I wanted to know if you think “Never let me go” is a more satisfying score?

  4. James Southall (Reply) on Sunday 23 January, 2011 at 11:14

    Chocolat is a definite favourite but this just feels like a slightly more substantial work.