Latest reviews of new albums:
The Last Wife

A Vietnamese period drama, The Last Wife is about a young woman scorned as she is unable to bear her prominent husband a son, who starts an affair with her former lover. Scoring the film is the trio of Christopher Wong, Garrett Crosby and Ian Rees who have become prominent composers in Vietnamese cinema despite being American; several of their scores (and Wong’s solo efforts) have been released by MovieScore Media and I’ve yet to come across an unimpressive one. Each year there seems to be a real off-the-radar gem that deserves to break out and be heard by a wider audience and in 2023 I think this score is the one.

The album opens and closes with a beautiful ballad, the Vietnamese folk song “Bèo Dạt Mây Trôi”, sung by Thùy Chi in its initial form and given an orchestral arrangement by Wong for the end titles. Full of longing and emotion, it’s wonderful and – given the plot of the film – you might think is representative of what the score itself is going to be, but this is only true to some extent. In fact there is quite a wide range of dramatic style on offer as well as the expected romance – for instance the first score cue “Wedding Preparations” has a slightly comic air and features a welcome reminder of Thomas Newman’s more playful orchestral music, then there is a delightfully fluid theme introduced in “A New Day” which goes for (and achieves) the sort of joyful bounciness we hear from Rachel Portman when she’s scoring romantic dramas.

In “Love”, perhaps we do get to what is more the expected sound – here a simple piano solo conveys both beauty and sadness, a delicate balancing act which is handled very well. The theme from “A New Day” returns in disguised form in the initially much more melancholy “Running in the Rain”, and for a while the score alternates between gentle light-heartedness and more traditional romance – it’s mostly admirably delicate, very pretty music which is particularly easy to fall in love with. I adore “Old Memories” with its exquisite passage for harp.

The score is mostly written for western symphony orchestra and soloists but there are dashes of local colour throughout and occasionally more overt forays into ethnic instrumentation, such as in the perkily percussive “The Feast”. As we enter the third act, the romance turns to tragedy and the music takes a correspondingly darker turn, mixing both heavy orchestral drama (such as the mournful “Cold Ground” and the portrait of desperation in “Guilt”) with straight-up action and suspense (“Axe Fight”, “Torture”, “Fire”). This change in style is handled well and is not jarring.

The score returns to orchestral beauty to close, with the two-part “Here With You” and then the “Epilogue” providing closure in a most moving manner. This is such a fine score – the three composers all have their own styles and even within that there is such a variety of moods on offer here, yet it all comes together in such a satisfying way. It’s one of my favourite new score albums of the year and comes highly recommended.

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  1. Ron Peach (Reply) on Saturday 17 February, 2024 at 17:29

    Great film and unbelievable beautiful music