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Prancer
  • Composed by Maurice Jarre
  • Intrada / 2013 / 49m

A little girl finds love and happiness when she discovers a reindeer in the forest near her town and – naturally – assumes it’s Prancer, one of Santa’s.  The title character was, the liner notes inform with a straight face, “played by Boo, a professional reindeer” – one wonders what she did in her spare time, while not being a reindeer.
You always take a gamble when you buy a Maurice Jarre score from the 1980s.  Are you going to get the orchestral majesty, or the cheap synth naffness?  No worries for a magical children’s tale like Prancer, surely – orchestral warmth all the way!  And everything goes great for the album’s first three minutes or so, with a lovely piano version of “Silent Night” (you may also know it by its original German title, “Silent Nacht”) and then a pleasant if slight main theme.  But 3’14″ ticks over on the clock onto 3’15″ and all of a sudden you need to call an ambulance – Maurice Jarre’s synths arrive and the party’s over.

The synths mix with the orchestra (and the always appealing sounding “electronic wind instrument”) and there are moments of warmth and loveliness in the 46 minutes which follow, but literally all of them are mixed in with the most hideous new age keyboard nonsense you can imagine.  I have never understood Jarre’s synth phase – he was so astonishingly good with an orchestra, so astonishingly bad with synths.  But some people must have liked it, I guess, else the albums wouldn’t keep coming out.  There’s even a plinky-plonky synth version of Verdi’s famous “Va, pensiero” from Nabucco.  One thing does stand out here and go a little way to making amends for some of the horrors, and that’s a beautiful theme introduced in “Reindeer Cookies” and heard a few more times as the album plays out; combined with the other main theme in the lengthy end title piece, you get the single piece from the score likely to provide any lasting satisfaction.  Given that piece is already available on a Jarre concert album, this album would appear to be for the die hards only.  Jarre is a real love-him-or-hate-him kind of composer and I am very often in the former camp; but I’m afraid even when the orchestra is heard as frequently as it is here, the synths take it to a place I just can’t go.

Rating: * 1/2

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  1. John Cunha on Thursday 19 December, 2013 at 23:19

    Got a good chuckle from the “always appealing ‘electronic wind instrument’” bit. I love it when the snark comes through, James!

  2. AJ on Friday 20 December, 2013 at 12:10

    I like the plinkety plonk nonnaffaniss of your reviews. Keep up the good work going on here.

    I found there is a performance of PRANCER on the Tadlow LAWRENCE, orchestral, none of that “bad” Jarre synth. Now I think it’s a guilty pleasure.

  3. Christian K on Saturday 21 December, 2013 at 21:55

    One might be tempted to deduce that Jarre’s use of synths is….jarring. *howls with laughter*

  4. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. on Sunday 22 December, 2013 at 19:25

    James, your succinct review brilliantly sums up the JARRE dilemma when considering his electronic & orchestral scores. Two metaphysical films however – DREAMSCAPE & JACOB’S LADDER – elicited very acceptable [electronic] scores from the composer. 1983′s DREAMSCAPE showed the exciting possibilities of electronics [by a reputable composer] at a time when that genré was at its infancy…its durability, compared to his celebrated orchestral scores during that same time-line, is the subject of a thesis. JEAN MICHEL JARRE, in an interview, told of his total dislike for MAURICE [his father], “the only thing we share are our genes”! JEAN MICHEL, also a composer, used elaborate electronica for his spectacular Son et Lumiere Events that were raved over by millions of TV viewers…His compositions were also critically acclaimed. It’s possible that MAURICE tried to usurp his son’s compositional skills by writing electronic scores that rivalled JEAN MICHEL’s. Or those electronic scores could have been MAURICE’s way of reaching out to his estranged son in an attempt to repair their relationship. Does anyone know if JEAN MICHEL eulogized over his father when he died? This is just my attempt to understand JARRE’s persistant fascination with electronics, in spite of being aware of the criticisms they provoked. An orchestral score witten in 1983 [the year DREAMSCAPE was composed] is AU NOM DE TOUS LES MIENS (FOR THOSE I LOVED). It’s a Holocaust drama that gave JARRE the chance to compose the type of music that we love. MUSIC BOX have released both the Film & TV scores on a single CD.

  5. James Southall on Sunday 22 December, 2013 at 22:09

    Thanks for that, Christian. :)

    Andre – I’m not familiar with Dreamscape and it’s been a long time since I watched Jacob’s Ladder. One synth Jarre score I do like in the film is Witness, but I couldn’t listen to it apart from it – except for the truly exceptional orchestral version of “Building the Barn” he arranged later for concerts.

    His symphonic powers certainly hadn’t waned by the 1980s – A Passage to India is great; Tai-Pan is phenomenal.