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L’Africain
  • Composed by Georges Delerue
  • Universal France / 2012 / 60m

A 1983 comedy adventure, L’Africain sees Catherine Deneuve and Philippe Noiret playing a separated couple whose lives again become linked up when they both coincidentally arrive at the same lake in a fictional African country.  Legendary director Philippe de Broca had always wanted to make an African film, and this was it; the film wasn’t especially well-received and has been largely forgotten in the thirty years since, but its soundtrack was released by Universal France for the first time in 2012.

The film was the 16th of 17 collaborations between de Broca and the great Georges Delerue, the most famous having been That Man From Rio.  By this time Delerue had moved to America but still worked on many French productions and flew back to France for several weeks to write this score for his old friend, who had used other composers on a few films in a row beforehand.  The album opens with a rapturous vocal version of Delerue’s love theme, “Face to Face”, sung by Vivian Reed; the lyrics are rather trite but can’t detract from the beauty of the melody, which fortunately is explored in more depth during the score.

Georges Delerue

Georges Delerue

The score itself begins with a monumental Overture, which is magnificently sweeping even by the standards of this composer.  The stately anthem for brass and strings which opens the piece is one of my favourite Delerue themes; it is grand and majestic, soaring away as it paints a highly romanticised portrait of an idyllic African adventure.  The piece clearly lays the foundations of the theme for the composer’s very next score, The Black Stallion Returns, and is just as wonderful.

“Nostalgie de Victor” follows this and is a gentle orchestral arrangement of the beautifully melancholic love theme.  “Soirée Chez Patterson” brings a classical flavour of high society living; elegant, deft and quite lovely.  The mood changes considerably in “Poulakis et sa bande” – Delerue’s suspense music wasn’t always the most listenable but here he keeps things firmly melodic even while exploring darker territory and while there’s no shortage of tension, somehow it still ends up sounding rather beautiful, with a heartmelting solo violin playing the love theme for just a few bars towards the piece’s conclusion.

“Valse Boston” is a sumptuous Parisian waltz, full of Gallic romance and splendour.  The love theme returns in “Charlotte abandonée”, this time tinged with a sense of sadness and quite touching in its gentle arrangement for solo piano.  “Sur la piste des éléphants” marks the first appearance within the body of the score of the main theme, leading into some playful material before returning in dramatic, powerful style; towards the end of the piece the composer uses dirty horn blasts to mimic the trumpets of elephants.  “Victor et Charlotte” marks the return of suspense, an urgent and dramatic mood taking over.

After a brief, unmistakably French march “Marche militaire”, the love theme makes perhaps its loveliest appearance so far in “L’espoir”, carried largely by flute this time.  It’s sumptuous.  The theme returns in short order, too, in a more piano-orientated arrangement in “Le bar de l’hôtel” after the suspenseful “Victor sauve les éléphants”.  There’s another romp of a waltz in “Voltige aérienne”, which is as rich and flavourful as a piece of chocolate cake.  A symphonic string-laden love theme arrangement follows in “A bientôt, Charlotte” which is another ravishing piece before the spectacular finale, “L’adieu à l’Afrique”, the exceptional main theme returning for the last time.

There’s still time for a fully orchestral arrangement of “Face to Face” before a wonderful bonus, the 17-minute “Suite symphonique de Broca”, recorded with David Hernando Rico conducting the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra in 2012.  It features music from four of Delerue’s scores for the director – 1962′s Cartouche, 1972′s Louise, 1969′s Le Diable par la queue and their final collaboration, 1989′s Chouans!  It’s a bountiful feast of music, offering plentiful evidence of the composer’s skills both for scoring French period drama and of course his strongest gift of all, a musical expression of pure, unadulterated romance.

I love Georges Delerue – you may have gathered – but I must grudgingly admit that occasionally his typically-European approach to certain films of stating and restating themes can mean that there are some of his scores which are as well-served by a couple of tracks or a short suite on a compilation as they are by a full soundtrack album.  L’Africain isn’t one of those – it’s full of wonderful melodies, the love theme is heard often but is never unwelcome, and the music is just as full of passion as always.  With the added bonus of the de Broca suite, this is one of the best soundtrack releases of the last couple of years, but somehow seemed to fall a little under many people’s radar; it deserves a very wide audience.

Rating: *****

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