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We Were the Lucky Ones tells the story of the Kurc family during the second world war. Until it began they lived in the Polish city of Radom, but following Hitler’s invasion some went into hiding, some were taken to concentration camps and others flew to distant corners of the world. The score is jointly credited to Rachel Portman and Jon Ehrlich with no indication of the division of labour – but there is no doubting who was responsible for the main theme, which is nothing short of magnificent.

Few can write a tune like Portman and this one is a seemingly effortless mixture of effervescence and tragedy – such a difficult mixture to pull off, I imagine its creation was in fact anything but effortless. It is genuinely exceptional, and yes it sounds like various creations from the past works of the composer but that’s the hallmark of a truly distinct and individual voice. The score’s highlights are generally when it appears but elsewhere there are scondary themes, typically for solo piano, and typically very touching and with Portman’s trademark deft touch. Inevitably there are darker moments too which provide the album with a nice balance which help to sustain its long run time. Highly recommended.

Even though Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem was necessarily dumbed down somewhat for its tv adaptation (as wonderful as it is, it does occasionally read more like a physics textbook) it was still made in a way that could have supported a great score. The direct allegory of the novel to Chinese social issues is lost in translation to the screen as the setting of the modern-day segments are shifted to allow more western characters, but there’s still stuff going on under the surface of the story that would have allowed a smart and deep score which could have combined these personal moments with the broad science fiction scope of the underlying narrative.

Unfortunately it didn’t get that. Instead Ramin Djawadi’s score is entirely surface-level, missing all the opportunities the project provided to him (whether this is his fault or the showrunners’, of course I have no idea). The main title piece is the highlight, a jittery and (by design) disorientating little piece with rhythmic cells being constructed then deconstructed over its brief run time. Sadly the rest of the score is just standard modern thriller material, an array of electronically-realised industrial sounds generally drowning out the orchestra with nary a tune in sight. Avoiding any attempt to create any emotional bonds between the characters (or between them and the audience) it’s just musical wallpaper, even the big sci-fi moments reduced in scope by the music. It’s such a dull album, and within the show feels like a big missed opportunity.

Djawadi fares a little (but only a little) better in his other big show released at the same time, Fallout, based on the post-apocalyptic video game series. While it’s not The Last Of Us by any means, I found it to be a reasonably entertaining show. Again the opportunity was there for a distinctive score and again it wasn’t really taken – the big mecha-warrior types, the cowboy/ghoul, the plucky young heroine, the mystery of the creation and leadership of the underground community – easy to see how these elements could have been given their own sounds with some overarching material linking everything together.

Instead it is mostly standard modern thriller material again, a bit grittier and more electronic than 3 Body Problem, but importantly with more of a sense of momentum behind it. The composer did create something off the beaten track for the cowboy/ghoul – in the show (but sadly not on the album) his every appearance is greeted with a quirky little motif, Fistful of Dollars-style (and amusingly people on social media thought Djawadi had invented something new with this – associating a musical motif with a character – they’re in for a surprise if they ever watch anything made before the Zimmerfication of film music, though I guess they might not; I do forget sometimes that I’m quite old). Unfortunately it’s a real slog to get through the album to find the occasional highlights, but they are there if you can make it.

The best-scored show I’ve seen recently is A Gentleman in Moscow, which sadly doesn’t have a huge amount else going for it. I absolutely loved Amor Towles’s novel on which it was based – Ewen McGregor gamely captures the sharp wit and biting satire that runs through it all in his portrayal of the Russian aristocrat imprisoned in a luxury hotel following the Bolshevik revolution – but this seemed lacking elsewhere in its earlier moments so I haven’t quite mustered the enthusiasm to see the show out. But the music – by Federico Jusid – is just great.

The main title theme is great – a short slavic motif developed first for violin, then piano, then grand choir, before being reduced down again. Jusid develops it further through the score and it proves to be particularly malleable, the variations ranging from profound beauty to extreme tragedy. There are no concerns about lack of ambition here: this is large-scale music and on album it tightly navigates through a narrative journey, weaving between Cossack dance music and Mozart-inspired elegance and epic choral sweep without pausing for breath. There’s emotion, too – real emotion. So much is packed in to the album’s 55 minutes it just flies past. Don’t miss this one.

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  1. Marco (Reply) on Monday 20 May, 2024 at 16:28

    Maybe the soundtrack from Knuckles might also be worth checking out. I’d never heard of Tom Howe before, but he did a solid job for that series’ score.

  2. Amit Rubinstein (Reply) on Monday 27 May, 2024 at 12:11

    The theme from We Were the Lucky Ones, as pretty as it is, is just so similar to JNH’s Hidden Life that it’s almost distracting to me.