Dario Marianelli | Atonement | Universal Classics & Jazz 4766195 | TT50:31 | 15 tracks | 2007

When a young girl wrongly accuses a man of a crime he did not commit, it is an act that alters the lives of all involved forever and ultimately haunts her until her dying day. Atonement, Joe Wright’s film of Ian McKewan’s 2001 novel, is a remarkable piece of work; wildly romantic and heartbreakingly tragic.

Reunited with Wright for his second feature (the first being Pride & Prejudice) is not only star Keira Knightley but composer Dario Marianelli, who was, once again, involved with the project from its earliest stages. Wright, it seems, puts great stock in the musical aspects of his films; the barrier between the sound world of the film and that of the soundtrack often blurs, with the music spilling over into the story space and vice versa. If you’ve seen the film you will know exactly what I mean; if you haven’t then there are several examples to highlight, including moments where the coda of a music cue happens on-screen, whether it be by a character plucking a piano string, or literally sitting at the piano and finishing what was begun by the orchestra. Another moment sees a character play the film’s love theme on the harmonica, while a standout moment of this cross-diegesis comes when Brenda Blethyn’s character begins to strike, with a branch, the police car taking her Son away; when the camera cuts away and the music is brought in, the whacking sound continues and is used percussively. These moments are to be experienced within the film of course and not on the album, which is itself a standalone treat as Marianelli’s score is quite simply as luscious and haunting as you might expect.

The composer adeptly captures the root of this story, the young girl ‘Briony’, with a somewhat tempestuous theme that utilises a typewriter in the orchestration. Clacking percussively, the keys strike and the carriage scrapes as the theme, like Briony’s imagination, runs away with itself. The melody is born of the piano, an icy, minor refrain, rhythmic in its construction and performance and ever so slightly in a state of mild panic. With the addition of heavy, cutting strings in ‘With My Own Eyes’, the theme becomes almost venomous and when elicited more slowly, in later cues like ‘Atonement’, it’s full of remorse, tragedy and sadness.

Of course there is a great love at the heart of the story as well and Marianelli has composed a burgeoning theme for the lovers, Robbie and Cecilia. First heard in ‘Robbie’s Note’, the theme is at first delicate when played on Clarinet, but becomes entirely passionate as the piano takes over, joined by strings that lift it to a glorious crescendo. This romantic music is explored greatly throughout the album in cues such as ‘Farewell’ and ‘Rescue Me’, while an almost virtuosic rendition comes in ‘Love Letters’ as pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and cellist Caroline Dale create a most heady romantic image with their musical tryst.

Amongst all of this are the horrors of War as Robbie serves as a private in the Army and finds himself in Dunkirk as the British Army makes its initial flight from the chaos. That chaos is brought quite stunningly to life on-screen by Wright, and Marianelli’s ‘Elegy for Dunkirk’ brings it vividly to life again on album as his music harmonises with, and weaves around, the hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’, sung by soldiers on a bandstand in the scene itself (another example of music crossing over into the filmic space). Dale’s cello once again adds great weight to the music, and an initial ghostly ambience captures the sense of dreamlike madness that pervades the scene.

There are many other moments to pinpoint on this album, so rich is the material; ‘Come Back’, for example, features more voices, this time singing ‘White Cliffs of Dover’, which again wash in and out of the orchestration and harmony, followed later by a grand pipe organ refrain, as a marriage takes place… I could go on and on.

Bringing the score selection to a close though are ‘Denouement’, ‘The Cottage on the Beach’ and ‘Atonement’, which each denote the story’s ultimate truth and tragic twists. The music is drenched in both sadness and beauty, such is Briony’s penitence and the lovers’ fate, while the final track, Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’, sweeps the listener up with its gentility and is itself something of a elegiac lullaby.

Dario Marianelli has once again delivered a stunning and affecting score, intrinsically connected to the film. The use of the typewriter is inspired; while it’s not the first time I’ve heard it done (Billy Goldenberg utilised one in his score for Columbo: Murder By The Book), it’s application here is much more creatively and elegantly conceived. Finally, the performance by the soloists and the English Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of Benjamin Wallfisch, is both delicate and impassioned, making this an album, and indeed a film, not to be missed.