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Georges AURIC (1899 – 1983)
La Belle et la Bête (1946)
Axios Chorus
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Adriano
Rec. Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, December 1994
NAXOS 8.557707 [62:08]


A member of Les Six, Auric inevitably collaborated with Jean Cocteau, the group’s godfather and mentor. He participated in collective works such as Les mariés de la Tour Eiffel. He also wrote a number of songs on poems by Cocteau. There are several scores for Cocteau-directed films (Le Sang d’un poète – 1930, L’Aigle à deux têtes – 1947, Les Parents terribles – 1948, Orphée – 1949 and, of course, the celebrated La Belle et la Bête). One of his major ballet scores, Phèdre (1950) is to a libretto by Cocteau; now available again in CD format in Les rarissimes de Georges Tzipine – EMI 7243 5 85204 2 2. Auric is now best remembered as a prolific composer of film scores, probably more so than as a composer of concert music. He obviously had a real flair for incidental music, and was able to find the right tone whatever the subject, be it light-hearted comedy such as The Titfield Thunderbolt, wartime drama (Heaven Knows, Mr Allison), psychological thriller (The Innocents) or fairy tale (La Belle et la Bête). His collaboration with Cocteau proved most fruitful and successful, because composer and director were, so to say, on the same wave-length. This is evident in his substantial score for La Belle et la Bête that beautifully evokes the fairy-tale nature of the film as well as its darker aspects. The score displays what some may describe as eclecticism, in that it alternates Neo-classical or folk-like episodes and harmonically more astringent ones, the latter sometimes verging on atonality. The whole, however, never sounds eclectic. The music fits the film’s episodes in a quite remarkable way. As this recording, now re-issued at Naxos bargain price, makes clear, La Belle et la Bête is a substantial score, although the whole of it was not used in the original soundtrack. Adriano’s well-informed notes go into some considerable detail about this point; but it is a fate often encountered in the film industry, and a rather frustrating one. Luckily enough, carefully prepared recordings such as the one under review help put things into the right perspective. Moreover they allow us to hear the music in a much better way than from the ageing soundtrack which often obscures the real quality of the original scoring. This is particularly welcome in this case, for Auric’s subtle and refined scoring may at last be fully appreciated. La Belle et la Bête is scored for large orchestral forces and includes episodes with wordless chorus (hints of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé here), though the composer rarely use them as such. He allows some more lightly-scored episodes, particularly when accompanying the chorus. Some other episodes, however, use the whole orchestral range with telling and effective results. Of course, the score mainly consists of fairly short cues (there are some exceptions though). However the whole amounts to a most satisfying musical experience.

Adriano’s excellent and well-informed notes are an asset, as far as the production of this recording goes, although – surprisingly enough – they contain one mistake: Adriano fails to mention Honegger as a member of Les Six! This is the more surprising given that Adriano recorded a good deal of Honegger’s film scores, of which that for Les Misérables is also now available as a Naxos Film Music Classics (8.557486)[reviews]. This should not deter anyone from enjoying his reading of the scores by Auric and Honegger.

This most desirable release is recommended not only to film buffs (who bought it when it was first released), but also to anyone with some interest in 20th Century French music. Auric was a fine composer, whose music is too little-known and still awaits deserved re-assessment. Not to be missed, especially at Naxos’s customer-friendly bargain price.

Hubert Culot

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