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  • Composed by Maurice Jarre
  • Universal France / 2012 / 47:22

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s final films, Topaz is an espionage thriller set during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  It was the great director’s first film after his fall-out with Bernard Herrmann on Torn Curtain, and he chose Maurice Jarre to compose the music (the film does have a heavy French flavour).  Jarre top-and-tailed the film with the strident “Russian March”, which pretty much does what it says.  The Soviet flavour is strong (this composer always had a flair for ethnic touches), and it’s a typically stirring piece.  The actual main theme is a kind of slightly off-kilter waltz, almost ever-present through the score, whether presented overtly by an accordion solo or the violins, or occasionally more covertly from pizzicato strings or a subtle harmonic accompaniment in the basses.

It’s a strong theme, and Jarre’s insertion of it in many different guises throughout his score is clever.  It even finds its way into the “Love Theme for Juanita de Cordoba”, which isn’t the kind of ravishing piece one might associate with this composer – there’s always a slight edge there, romantic though it is, another musical suggestion that not all is as it seems.  It’s sometimes said that the film was in some ways Hitchcock’s response to the James Bond films (the earliest ones of which clearly borrowed some ideas from his own films) and there’s just a touch of John Barry to the opening bars of “From Copenhagen to Washington”.  (In fact in some of its arrangements, the main theme ends up sounding a little like the kind of swirling piece Barry favoured so often for the murkier parts of Bond films.)  There’s also a delightful piece of Latin-infused source music (“Welcome to Cuba”) which is more than enough to bring a smile to the listener’s face.  It’s not all unreservedly successful – the composer’s familiar ondes martenot makes a couple of appearances, and so do some synths, and these sound somewhat out of place; occasionally bits of suspense music seem to noodle around a little without really going anywhere – but it’s an enjoyable album.  Nothing like Herrmann’s music for the director, of course, but Jarre had such a powerful, distinctive style that is hardly a surprise.  Incredibly, this 2012 release from Universal France marks the first time the score has ever been released; the sound quality is good and Stéphane Lerouge’s liner notes include lengthy quotes from an old interview with Jarre talking about his interesting experience of working with Hitchcock.  Recommended.  *** 1/2 |

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