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Witse (Johan Hoogewijs)

March 29, 2014

Cover_WitseW. (WITSE)

Johan Hoogewijs, 2014, ScreamWorks Records
28 tracks, 45:02

For his final case, Witse, the Belgian TV detective makes the transition to cinema; taking composer Johan Hoogewijs with him. How will they fare?
Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

“W. – Witse de Film” is the feature-length conclusion of the popular Belgian detective series of the same name. The program ran for nine seasons between 2004-2012 and starred Hubert Damen as the titular investigator. Directed by Frank van Mechelen, “W. – Witse de Film” takes the retired detective back to his roots as he tries to close his career by finding the killer of his niece. The film’s score is by Flemish composer Johan Hoogewijs, who is a seasoned TV composer who studied piano and jazz; and who also teaches music at the HKU (University of Arts, Utrecht). The album’s release follows the film’s Belgian première on March 5, 2014.

What does it sound like?

Let me first say that, living in England, I have not seen “Witse” and am therefore not familiar with the show’s music. I do not know how this film’s score relates to the nine televised seasons that preceded it. I’m afraid I can only judge it on its own merits; but some fine merits they are. Hoogewijs’ website does contain various samples from his work for the TV show. As you’d expect, the composer maintains the show’s main theme, though pushes it in a very different direction. The TV version is quite quirky with a harmonica taking the lead and percussion driving it along; it sounds dated and has ‘television’ written all over it. The film’s music is an altogether much more serious affair; one that suits the big screen rather well.

It’s a sober score that is led by piano, accompanied by strings (usually quite dense). And that is pretty much it. Timpani is utilised here and there; and there are some subtle, typical ‘thriller’ synth pads, but that really is it. No brass, no woodwinds. It follows then that there’s a homogeneous sound throughout the album. Herein lies both its strength and its weakness, as far as the casual listener is concerned. If you enjoy your piano-and-strings-only scores, you’re in for a wonderful treat. However, if you need more than just a piano and a string section, you’ll not find it here.

The album opens with “Between the Crosses”, which introduces the lyrical (dare I say European?) main theme. It’s performed on piano with strings providing a warm backdrop. It offers a few nice harmonic shifts, though you may have come to expect that from a crime drama. A quirky motif for staccato strings reminds me of something like “Sherlock”. Staccato strings appear in a number of cues (e.g. “Surprise”), adding a touch of vitality to an otherwise beautiful but subdued score. Timpani and subtle synth pads are used sporadically to heighten the tension; for example in cues like “Dicky’s Confession” or “A Bridge to Far”. Some additional (sampled) percussion is employed in “Appointment at the Marketplace”, making it a stand-out track. Literally, as it’s the only cue that expands beyond the default orchestrations.

The main theme is first reprised in “Unexpected Visit” and, indeed, in most of the following tracks. As such it really feels as if the composer is taking you on a journey; sharing Witse’s emotions as he tries to solve his final case. I can easily imagine how this would draw you closer into the world of – and to the character of – Witse. When the theme is reprised in “Back to Brussels” it sounds as if we’ve completed the journey and are heading back home.

Is it any good?

It’s a beautiful little score that sets a melancholy tone from the onset and maintains it throughout its 45 minutes running time. Orchestrated for piano and a string section (with the odd timpani and synth pad here and there) it may not be for everyone, as there is no deviation from that sound-set. I’d urge you to take a listen to the samples on MovieScore Media‘s website as, in this case, the samples do provide a clear indication of the score as a whole. It’s a subtle score that requires a little bit of patience. There’s a wonderful European sentiment here, and a lyrical theme with a few nice twists and turns of its own. Whist there is nothing wrong with it, yet there is also nothing particularly spectacular about it. It is pretty much what you’d expect from a crime drama these days; though it is very well written and manages to draw the listener into its world.

Rating [3/5]


1. Between the Crosses (1.29)
2. Unexpected Visit (1.52)
3. Tracing Dax (1.56)
4. Mortuary (1.55)
5. Dreaming in Bed (0.54)
6. Dicky’s Confession (2.37)
7. Reunited (1.01)
8. Repentance (1.04)
9. Branded (2.47)
10. Surprise (0.34)
11. Here Comes Colette (1.41)
12. Looking for Traces (1.29)
13. Secretly (0.56)
14. Obsession (1.01)
15. Exhausted (1.30)
16. Memories (1.16)
17. W. as Bait (1.01)
18. Dax Takes the Bait (0.53)
19. Appointment at the Marketplace (2.38)
20. Pictures on the Walls (1.02)
21. Casino (2.06)
22. Message from Dax (1.21)
23. Photo Album (2.12)
24. Lantern (0.40)
25. A Bridge Too Far (1.33)
26. Chained (2.27)
27. Back to Brussels (2.40)
28. Piano improv (2.27)

Visit the ScreamWorks/MovieScore Media website for more information.

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