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Notre Dame de Paris
  • Composed by Maurice Jarre
  • Tadlow Music / 2012 / 126:32

The late, great Maurice Jarre wrote almost exclusively film music for most of his career, but like some other notable film composers, back at the start of his career he also wrote a wealth of concert music, including operas, a concerto for percussion and strings and various other concert works.  This continued for a few years after his film career really took off; three years after his breakthrough Lawrence of Arabia, in 1965 came the première of Roland Petit’s ballet production of Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris, for which Jarre wrote one of his most ambitious and complex works. The production was widely praised and has been occasionally performed since (and is available on DVD) but – largely because of the orchestral and choral forces required for the music – is not performed anywhere near as frequently as it might otherwise have been.  This new album from Tadlow marks the first time the music has been recorded for album.  Producer James Fitzpatrick (a friend of the composer) has carefully assembled a six-movement suite of symphonic dances, presenting the ballet’s highlights.  It’s a wonderful piece of music – Jarre offering a wide range of material with hints of the more avant garde side he had explored in much of his concert music, but also plenty of the sweepingly dramatic side so familiar to followers of his film work.

Maurice Jarre

After a cathedral bell marks a portentous opening to the “Prelude”, the aggressive “Fête de fous” (slightly Herrmannesque in some ways) is a real highlight, showcasing again Jarre’s gift for complex percussion arrangements, and featuring a manic rhythmic energy.  A more romantic side is explored in the beautiful “La Belle et la Bête – Pas de deux”, whose gentle waltz for Quasimodo is a treat.  The dramatic conclusion, “La Cour des miracles”, is perhaps best of all – Fitzpatrick rightly describes it as hypnotic in his liner notes, as the piece swells and swells from relatively modest beginnings into another intensely dramatic few minutes.  The suite runs for about 22 minutes and is a colourful and expressive, sometimes thrilling ride which must rank as one of the most impressive works of this decorated composer. The album also features over 100 minutes of concert arrangements of Jarre’s film music, including a number of fairly obscure pieces – and most of it has been reorchestrated specifically for a concert sound.

“Maurice Jarre and the Orient Suite” is a fabulous collection of themes, beginning with the monumental overture from Tai-Pan, boasting a grandeur notable even by this composer’s standards, particularly in this arrangement.  Slightly more low-key (but in all honesty, it’s only relative) is the beautiful “Mariko’s Theme” from Shogun, boasting a real orchestral beauty; the intricate “Tea and Jealousy” from the same score is very colourful, many Japanese instruments (including – of course – percussion) added to the orchestra.  The suite concludes with the end title theme from The Palaquin of Tears, a 1987 film set (and filmed) in China; it’s one of the more obscure pieces on the album, a ravishing, romantic theme with all the requisite Jarre trademarks in an unmistakably Asian setting.

Following this is the first recording of a concert suite from The Message, the ambitious 1970s film directed by Moustapha Akkad (and part financed by Colonel Gadaffi) about the Prophet Mohammad.  Jarre’s music is huge in all respects; while the obvious route for the composer to travel would have been a retread of Lawrence of Arabia, actually it’s a very different score, the composer producing one of his trademark blends of a western symphonic style with authentic ethnic elements (this time Arabic in nature).  My favourite part is actually the least showy, the outstanding “The Prayer and the Spread of Islam”, whose solemn tranquillity is very moving.  The first disc concludes with another première recording, this time of a short suite from Jarre’s score for the 1980 comedy The Black Marble, highlighted by an exuberant waltz complete with accordion and balalaika.

Nic Raine

The obscurity theme is briefly abandoned for the opening of disc two, but it’s hard to hold a grudge against the inclusion of the brilliant “Bombay March” from A Passage to India.  The rousing – and lighthearted – main theme from The Prince and the Pauper is so typically Jarre, with its bold, sweeping, exuberant melody and lavish orchestration.  A very different side to the composer is revealed in the beautiful theme from Mourir à Madrid, an understated but hugely appealing theme for two guitars, a slither of percussion, and nothing else.  In fact it was because of that film that Jarre was hired to score Behold a Pale Horse (some footage from the former was used in the latter) and, while budget allowed for larger forces this time round, the composer still keeps (excuse the pun) a reign on things, with the gorgeous “Spain Regained” a real gem of a cue (and the main theme march which follows a more typical crowdpleaser).

The concert suite from William Wyler’s The Collector is a beauty, the lovely main theme sandwiching the jazzy “The Catch” in endearingly eccentric fashion.  Just as charming is “The Harvest” from A Walk in the Clouds, which is given a barnstorming performance here, beefed up considerably compared with the original soundtrack recording.  In stark contrast is the suite from Uprising (Jarre’s final score), a tv miniseries about an uprising in the Warsaw ghetto during the second world war; the composer’s music is dark, but constantly shot through with a huge amount of nobility, even during moments of real despair.

The overture to Pope Joan sees a wonderful melody embellished with an impressive liturgical sheen; the theme from Jarre’s rejected score from Two Bits (a 1993 film starring Al Pacino) is light, joyful and exquisitely romantic.  More serious matters are dealt with in The Night of the Generals, the black-as-night, militaristic “Lieutenant General Tanz” followed by the more romantically noirish “On the Terrace at Versailles”.  The theme from the revisionist Frankenstein movie The Bride is one of the composer’s most lavish (and best), and it gets a great performance here.  The album ends with “Giubelio”, a trio of pieces Jarre put together at the behest of the Vatican in 2000, each based on a film theme – those represented are Lion of the Desert, his rejected The River Wild and Solar Crisis.  This recording, previously released on Tadlow’s double-header of the original recordings of Lion of the Desert and The Message a couple of years ago, draws out the piece’s boldly dramatic nature very clearly; the contrast between moments of light and dark is stark, but unsurprisingly a message of hope is the clear main aim, the finale actually seeing the word “peace” being chanted in 33 languages.

This is a superb album.  The ballet suite is a stunning revelation, and it’s wonderful that Jarre fans can now own it.  But beyond that, the film suites and themes on offer – even though they are inevitably geared generally towards those of a more rousing, extroverted nature – reveal a breadth and variety in Jarre’s music for which he is too rarely given credit.  The performance by the City of Prague Philharmonic under the baton of Nic Raine is excellent; liner notes by Fitzpatrick and Frank K. DeWald are detailed and enlightening.  Highly recommended.  *****

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  1. franz_conrad (Reply) on Thursday 23 August, 2012 at 23:38

    Good review. I’ll be getting this on that recommendation. 🙂

  2. André-Cape Town. (Reply) on Sunday 26 August, 2012 at 14:16

    This collection of Jarre’s (mainly) filmmusic has, as his friend & admirer James Fitzpatrick states in his disclaimer, been arranged “for an orchestra to perform in concert”. He further adds that no attempt was made by the orchestrators to “replicate the original soundtracks”. As such, the compilation is a superb introduction for those not familiar with Jarre’s incredible output of film scores. Hopefully, they’ll be motivated to search for the original soundtrack releases and experience the magic & genius of Jarre’ music – which this compilation’s concert arrangements and sound only hint at. I’m also hoping that our new generation of film composers and movie-directors will explore & be inspired, not only by Jarre’s music, but also by that of his peers[Delerue, Rota, Goldsmith, Morricone]. And only then,can we devotees look forward to a much needed rénaissance in the approach to filmmusic scoring.