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Jarre heads east for classy television score
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Universal Music Enterprises; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
While even the best television music has generally always been a pretty weak sibling of the finest film music, there was a certain "golden period" for about ten years from the mid-1970s which saw a number of high-profile, expensive tv miniseries come out, often with great scores - the likes of QB VII, Masada, Marco Polo, North and South etc. Right in the middle was Shogun, based on James Clavell's epic Japanese novel. Maurice Jarre was the perfect composer, with his successful history of epic music which incorporated musical elements from other cultures.
What's great about Jarre's "ethnic music" is that, a little like Miklos Rozsa, no matter how much research he may have done and which strange and exotic instruments he uncovered, the music ends up sounding like great big western romantic music performed by a symphony orchestra augmented with ethnic instruments. His music opens with the exciting main theme - OK, not as memorable as his best, but it gets the job done perfectly and is a good illustration of what I was talking about. "The Japans" is the other main theme, a lovely piece featuring the kind of scales and harmonies westeners always associate with music from the Far East.
Those two themes are both impressive but it's the detail in the score that really leaves its mark. The very careful, multi-layered percussion (always a speciality of this composer), the little flourishes here and there - evidence of a composer pouring his all into a project and not being satisfied to just provide something that "works" (to use the phrase so often coined these days to excuse lazy film music). For a composer with whose name the word "subtlety" would rarely be associated, there is a really impressive level of restraint at times here which makes the 38-minute album extremely impressive in its compilation.
From the gorgeous romantic music of "Nocturne" to the stately action of "To the Galley!", this is a sweeping, old-fashioed score with plenty of quality. The $19.99 price tag for a straight LP reissue seems a little steep (both Varese and FSM reduce their prices for LP reissues, after all) but frankly for such a wonderful score, presented as well as this, there can be few complaints. Jarre is one of the great film composers but his music seems to have drifted away from getting the attention it deserves; releases like Shogun can only help to redress that balance.