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Artwork copyright (c) 2001 Editions Milan Music; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall


Exemplary sample of legendary composer's career

Maurice Jarre is one of those composers whose music lends itself especially well to compilations - he almost invariably blesses his scores with outstanding main themes that can easily be extracted and placed alongside each other to make great albums.  Therefore it is no surprise that of all film composers, Jarre is probably represented by more compilation albums than any other.  As well as albums of re-recordings and collections of original soundtrack material, there are no fewer than three commercially-available live concert recordings.  Many of these albums have been released over the years by Milan, the enterprising French film music label, and so it seemed only natural when Jarre announced his retirement from film scoring in 2002 that they should put the recordings together to give an overview of his career.  The resulting double-CD collection is the portentously-named The Emotion and the Strength.

The first disc actually opens with a previously-unreleased piece, the "Welcoming Fanfare of the Theatre National Populaire" in Paris, which Jarre wrote in 1997.  It's a fairly standard trumpet fanfare, with an announcement half way through for people to take their seats, but it's a nice curtain-raiser.  The disc proper opens with the Overture from Jarre's score for John Frankenheimer's Grand Prix.  It's a thrilling piece which,  complete with a few seconds of Formula One sound effects, perfectly sums up the emotion and excitement of a motor race.  (Trivia: Jerry Goldsmith was originally meant to have written the score, but pulled out so he could do The Sand Pebbles instead.)

Witness was a perfect score for Peter Weir's Amish movie, written while Jarre was in his "electronic phase" during the 1980s.  He suddenly shifted from being a composer of some of the biggest orchestral scores to writing minimal, somewhat abrasive electronic music, inspired perhaps by the success of his son Jean-Michel in the arena.  But in the middle of it all he did still write the odd killer melody, and Witness is one of his all-time best.  Here it is orchestrated by Christopher Palmer into a really classy and uplifting piece played by the RPO, one of the true highlights of Jarre's career.

The Tin Drum is not so well-known.  It's an eclectic combination of somewhat insane percussion (Jarre has written some great material for percussion over the years), electronics and orchestra.  The suite here is generous and provides some highlights from the score, including the excellent main theme.  The romantic theme from Ghost was completely overshadowed by Alex North's "Unchained Melody" when the film came out, but Jarre's music has lived on regardless.  The score as a whole is somewhat unsatisfying, but its theme as represented here is absolutely gorgeous.  Gorillas in the Mist is another electronic score, again given a wonderful orchestral arrangement that seems to much better than the original form.  The end title music heard here is a great celebratory piece, perfect for a concert, perfect for a compilation.  A breathtaking interpretation of the music.  The finale music from Dead Poets' Society, "Keating's Triumph", is very different - relatively introspective, and with the terrifying addition of bagpipes which might have made me dive for cover, but Jarre really does pull it off very well indeed.  

Testament to Jarre's continuing talent is how well his last few scores can stand up to his acknowledged classics, and Sunshine, written for a 1999 Hungarian movie starring Ralph Fiennes, is one of his very best efforts, featuring a stunningly-beautiful theme for orchestra and choir.  Unquestionably one of my favourite scores of the 1990s, Sunshine is one of those gorgeous pieces of music that really show off some of the best things about what film music can be - unashamedly romantic, one of the great melodist's finest contributions to film music.  Following on from it is another one, but this time something entirely different, the main title from Villa Rides, which isn't one of Jarre's most famous scores, but should be.  It's a really great, rousing, classic western theme.

Of course, Jarre's most famous scores are as a result of his collaboration with director David Lean.  It's surprising to some, but they only actually worked on four films together, but each produced brilliant results, and no fewer than three of them won well-deserved Oscars for Jarre (the only other composer/director collaboration to have achieved that is Spielberg/Williams, and when you consider that they have worked on over three times as many films together, it seems all the more extraordinary).  The second was Doctor Zhivago.  Now, mention Doctor Zhivago to a film music fan and you will find opinions so strongly-held and at opposing ends of the spectrum you will probably need to duck for cover.  Never can a piece of film music have produced such differing opinions - recent scores like Gladiator and Titanic have divided listeners down the middle, but differences of opinion over scores like those seem more diluted than tap-water when compared with Doctor Zhivago.  "Lara's Theme" became so widely-known, heard so often that many people grew to consider it with such fervent hatred that they refused to ever listen to anything else by Jarre.  It would be easy to point out different scores from Jarre's career that would surely sway them back towards him, but it would be just as easy to point out different sections within the same score.  Whatever one's feelings about "Lara's Theme", surely nobody can fail to be impressed by the rest of the score, from the incredible other main theme to the waltz to the Russian military material.  It's really an incredible score for a film whose epic nature is easy to admire, but slightly more difficult to love; regardless, the music is always enjoyable, and at times brilliant.

The second disc opens in style with a suite from another epic, John Huston's 1975 movie The Man Who Would be King, featuring the dream pairing of Michael Caine and Sean Connery.  Jarre's score is stirring, full-bodied and old-fashioned, and certainly sets the pulses racing.  After this is a lengthy suite from Jarre's last score for Lean, A Passage to India, another stirring effort.  It's an eclectic effort, with a prominent part for ondes martenot, but features another classic Jarre theme and yet more brilliant supplementary material.  "Eclectic" is a good word to use with Jarre, because we move from epic David Lean territory straight into didgeridoos for The Year of Living Dangerously, another collaboration with Peter Weir.  Again, the original was synthesised, but here the more orchestral arrangement isn't quite as good as Witness or Gorillas in the Mist, owing simply to the lack of a really great melodic hook - this is more a score of atmosphere than theme.  It's probably the least interesting piece on the album.

We return to form with the outstanding "The White Wolf" from Shadow of the Wolf, an obscure Canadian movie from 1992.  Another showcase for percussion, this time with a propulsive, thrilling theme on French horns.  I've never heard anything from the score before, but I doubt many people will listen to this piece and not be eager to seek out more.  Entirely different is the orchestral version of the theme from Adrian Lyne's Fatal Attraction which follows.  It's not as strong as something like Ghost, but it is still exuberantly romantic and highly-attractive.  What follows this is another of Jarre's more recent efforts, and another of his best efforts.  A Walk in the Clouds features one of the most romantic and attractive themes you will ever hear, for strings and solo guitar.  A silly film, perhaps, but a wonderful score (so good you really do need to buy the album to really appreciate it).

Next up is the lesser of the Lean/Jarre collaboration, Ryan's Daughter.  It's another long suite, full of romantic material, but somehow doesn't quite gel in the way Jarre's other three Lean scores do.  Then we come to the thunderous, dark theme from the WWII miniseries Uprising, Jarre's last-ever score.  It doesn't have the melodic attraction of most of his works, but it's still powerful, emotional and unmistakably Jarre.  Then is the end title music from Jacob's Ladder, one of the few horror movies in Jarre's canon.  As you might expect, Jarre approaches it in a gothic romantic vein, and it's a moving and beautiful piece.

Jarre's most famous score is Lawrence of Arabia, and not without reason.  Steven Spielberg called it "a miracle of a film" - and he's right - and what Jarre created was a miracle of a score, a career-best effort that is surely one of the top few ever written, by anyone.  From the sweeping Overture music for the desert to the sprightly Lawrence theme heard in the opening title - my all-time-favourite Jarre theme - it's one of the truly great film scores, rarely beaten either before or since.  The movie - one of the few that is really, truly epic - cannot be underestimated in its brilliance, from Lean's deft direction of the action to Peter O'Toole's exceptional performance as Lawrence.  Bizarrely, everyone from Aram Khachaturian to Richard Rodgers was approached for the movie before Jarre was brought on board, but Lean and Sam Spiegel couldn't have picked anyone better.  The twelve-minute suite here contains some of the most stunning highlights from the amazing score.

Lawrence of Arabia would be difficult to follow, and Milan have come up with a unique solution by including a three-minute interview with Jarre afterwards.  Since it's in French I have no idea whether Jarre is discussing the instability of the Euro's exchange rate, giving tips for cooking the perfect onion soup or what, but never mind.  Afterwards, the disc ends with a kind of "encore", the brilliant waltz from Is Paris Burning?

Film composers don't come much better than Maurice Jarre, and film composer compilations don't come much better than The Emotion and the Strength.  Since a lot of it is taken from concerts, performance and recording sometimes fall into the "enthusiastic" rather than "technical" category, but the exuberance and bravado of Jarre's compositions surely can't fail to entice people along.  Jarre is hardly ever given the credit he deserves for the music he has created.  He is one of the great romantics of film music, coming up with beautiful, strong melodies as often as his equally-brilliant countryman Georges Delerue.  His many fans cannot fail to enjoy this double album, and for those who have yet to discover the wealth of brilliance in his lengthy career, this is the perfect place to start.  A masterpiece!

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Disc one tracks

  1. Welcoming Fanfare of the Theatre National Populaire (1:13)
  2. Grand Prix (4:49)
  3. Witness (4:59)
  4. The Tin Drum (7:13)
  5. Ghost (4:12)
  6. Gorillas in the Mist (2:46)
  7. Dead Poets' Society (5:54)
  8. Sunshine (5:09)
  9. Villa Rides (3:36)
  10. Doctor Zhivago (9:51)


Disc two tracks

  1. The Man Who Would be King (5:15)
  2. A Passage to India (10:01)
  3. The Year of Living Dangerously (6:49)
  4. Shadow of the Wolf (5:04)
  5. Fatal Attraction (5:09)
  6. A Walk in the Clouds (3:04)
  7. Ryan's Daughter (8:29)
  8. Uprising (3:59)
  9. Jacob's Ladder (3:20)
  10. Lawrence of Arabia (12:25)
  11. Maurice Jarre Interview (3:17)
  12. Is Paris Burning? (3:27)