April 2001 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Founder Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings /April01/



Georges AURIC Film Music Vol IV
La Symphonie Pastorale; Macao, l'enfer du jeu; Du rififi chez les hommes (Rififi);
Le salaire de la peur (The Wages of Fear)
Adriano conducting the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
MARCO POLO 8.225136 [59:33]
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With this album we reach Volume IV of Adriano's absorbing and invaluable exploration of the film music of Georges Auric, one of the celebrated group of Les Six French composers that included Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger and Francis Poulenc.

The new collection opens with La Symphonie Pastorale (1946) one of Michèle Morgan's best and most popular films. It tells the story of Gertrude (Morgan) a beautiful and innocent blind girl who unwittingly causes havoc amongst the members of her adopted family because both Jean, the father, and Jacques, the son, fall in love with her while the wife (Amélie) is intensely jealous. The action takes place against a chill winter background that acts as a metaphor and heightens Gertrude's sense of icy isolation.

Auric's Main Title is sweepingly Late Romantic with great dramatic intensity; in fact it could be thought of as 'out-Steinering', Steiner! It is a blizzard of passions - passions that engulf the drama's protagonists against a threatening white landscape. 'Gertrude' is a telling musical portrait of a vulnerable innocent beauty caught up in a web of jealousy and passion. A solo violin has a pleading and, at the same time, a radiantly beautiful theme. The music also suggests Gertrude caught in cold, swirling mists of apprehension, uncertainty and incomprehension. 'Between two loves', after a restrained beginning, adds increasing bewilderment. The swirling intensifies, tightening so that the atmosphere verges on hysteria, a mood only compounded by the music of 'Refusal and Hate' that is almost claustrophobic as events close in on the unfortunate girl. In 'Despair and Suicide' the icy landscape in which Gertrude will find escape in oblivion, becomes a chill pastorale brilliant as an ice diamond and just as unyielding. The swirls tighten, the pace quickens with pounding bass drum ostinato figures as Gertrude plunges through the snow desperately fleeing her tormentors. Funeral bells toll and the bass drum pounds relentlessly…

As a pendant to this intense music Adriano adds two short pieces of source music actually composed by Auric - a Waltz and a Tango both full of Gallic charm and redolent of Parisian insouciance.

Macao, l'enfer du jeu (1939), starred Erich von Stroheim as a shady adventurer caught up in gun-running and smuggling in Canton during the Chinese-Japanese war early in the 20th century. For this adventure film, Auric wrote a very colourful and exciting score that while being clearly oriental in atmosphere cleverly avoids all the cliché traps associated with that genre. Adriano faced a problem in assembling music for this film because only 'Chinoisserie' (a jolly intoxicating confection with some very interesting cross-rhythms, presumably used to underscore general scenes of business and bustle in the Chinese town) could be directly linked with the film. The music of the other tracks were found in a stack of music marked 'Macau' but with no subtitles for single cues. So Adriano elected to use these. They have only a subtle oriental reference so they could have been put to use in other contexts. They are suitably redolent of intrigue, mystery and general skulduggery; again they avoid all the usual clichés. Adriano suggests that much of the music is neo-classical with its roots in Bach and one movement, a rather dour 'March', in Prokofiev.

The French gangster film, Rififi (1954) about a jewellery heist and its tragic after effects became internationally famous. Typical film noire suspense chords open the 'Main Titles' before the sleazy jazz theme is stated interjected with occasional harp glissandos suggesting the brilliance of the loot, before the tempo increases as danger and betrayal is intimated. A melodramatic flourish on the piano closes this delicious, darkly humorous introduction. Auric then screws up tension in anticipation of the robbery as the gangsters go about their 'Preparations'. This cue begins in fugal mode with material that is perky and comic. You feel the pressure of time as Auric builds up a musical fabric -- as Adriano writes "with an almost obsessive precision, like the work of a clockmaker, gradually reaching a tense impact and a sudden sensual climax." Auric had written music for the actual robbery but Jules Dassin, the director, sensibly rejected it on the grounds that it would lessen the tension and suspense by betraying too much. So we now have a chance to hear it, and it proves to be a rather sombre, downbeat and pessimistic cue proving the rightness of Dassin's decision - although, of course we can appreciate its darkly dramatic content. The final cue 'Settling of Debts' relentlessly maintains this dark mood in a gloomy march with dissonances and nervous chromatic cross-overs; and the ticking-clock figures remorselessly pointing towards nemesis and retribution.

The collection closes with two short cues from another huge international success, Le salaire de la peur (The Wages of Fear) that starred Yves Montand. It was about four men delivering two highly dangerous truckloads of unstable nitro-glycerine across a hazardous South American landscape. The 'Main Title' is as arresting as it is unusual. Exciting, vivid and colourful the music employs a curious ensemble of percussion instruments: xylophone, vibraphone, maracas, claves, temple blocks, timpani, gong, and drums supported by electric and acoustic guitars, two cellos and a harp. Most people will associate Johann Strauss's The Blue Danube with 2001, A Space Odyssey, forgetting the equally dramatic use of the same source music in The Wages of Fear. In the film it is heard in the final scene being played on the surviving truck's radio as it wends its way back to civilisation. But, of course, the truck is caught in an accident and plunges down a precipice. Here we hear not only the waltz but also its sudden end and a terrific rending noise signifying the fatal crash.

Another jewel in Marco Polo's enterprising series of French film music by Georges Auric.

Ian Lace

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