January 2003 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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White Oleander  
Composed by Thomas Newman
  The Hollywood Studio Symphony
  Available on Varese Sarabande Records No: VSD 6417  
Running time:  34:40
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white oleander

It is always a difficult proposition to review a soundtrack music album before having the opportunity to see the film itself.  It has to become a matter of conjecture as to how well the composer might be fulfilling their obligations to the plot, or enhancing the movie's overall atmosphere, or aiding psychological insight into character.  Luckily, with certain established composers the reviewer need have few qualms about the music "fitting the bill".  This is certainly so of Thomas Newman, who from "The Player" to "The Shawshank Redemption" to "American Beauty" has always demonstrated a sure dramatic sense.  Those who are familiar with his scores are aware that Newman seldom needs to come to the rescue with a hundred and one strings – and the impression given by his music is invariably that of the modestly instrumental rather than any grandly symphonic gestures.   And Newman has virtually cornered the market in tingeing his scores with gamelan hues, singly bestowing a new and unusual musical soundscape on American movies.  Then there are those halting figures which so identify his scoring, usually piano-led, and a wealth of delicate orchestral textures.   Thomas Newman's scores are not for those craving "crash; bang, wallop, what a film score!" but more a delicate delight for anyone who gravitates toward the simply engaging or the subtle.

"White Oleander" is obviously a tale of many facets, following over a full decade the trials and tribulations of a young girl whose mother is committed to prison for murdering the lover who betrayed her.   Thomas Newman's approach is predictably yet seductively miniature in scope, sparkling with instrumental detail, and particularly alive with sensuous percussive effects.  The conjured aura is ethereal, if not transcendental.   In a musical sense, this is not so much of a soundtrack shout, but more a mystical movie murmur - and in many ways, all the better for that.   And as I have hinted at above, it is often a necessity to view a film before properly being able to evaluate its music, but here, as has been demonstrated with past Newman scores, the music can easily be appreciated as a stimulating listening experience all it's own.   So whilst this is not for lovers of bombastic and demonstrative scores, Thomas Newman aficionados can approach this with their usual enthusiasm.

David Wishart

**** 4

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