February 2005 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Marc Bridle
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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The Chorus (Les Choristes)  
Composed and orchestrated by Bruno Coulais
  Performed by Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint-Marc Choir & the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Deyan Pavlov
  Available on Nonesuch 61741-2
Running Time: 38:38
Amazon UK   Amazon US

Surprise best seller.

Number one.

Sold more than one million copies in France.

Those are phrases that appear regarding Bruno Coulais' score for The Chorus, a box-office hit (that is another phrase) in France and also the country's submission for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. You undoubtedly know that popularity is not indicative of quality, but when a soundtrack deserves great success and receives it that is a momentous event. Oh bliss, for such an event occurred here.

Context for this soundtrack is incidental, particularly as the central plot was already an elderly friend when it first appeared as La cage aux rossignols in 1945, but here it is: A meek teacher in post-World War II France goes to work at an inhospitable all-boys school for preadolescent delinquents, and strives to open the hearts and minds of the youths through the power of music.

Certainly there is something otherworldly about the musicality of boy choirs. I know the jokey theory about them being fascinating because they offer one of the few places where a male is welcome to sing like a girl, but I suggest that in a good chorus those treble voices simply provide the waves on which almost any listener's spirit must sail. Such is the power of music.

Debuting writer/director Christopher Barratier contributed music to two themes, Jean-Philippe Rameau's 'La Nuit' and the traditional 'Compere Guilleri' also appear, but it is the film composer's efforts that attract attention. Coulais' approach, particularly with the dramatic underscoring, is full of modern tonalities and discordances. Some moments suggest Danny Elfman's work on Edward Scissorhands, like in track 18, 'Seuls (Alone)'. More frequently you may recall Coulais' works for the documentaries Microcosmos and Winged Migration. In contrast, his choral sensibilities for the soundtrack lean toward the Romantic-era. That is a perfect choice in my mind, because when I think of French choral music I think of Gabriel Faure's Requiem. Coulais achieves a similar, howbeit simplified, beauty.

On technical matters, nothing about the performances of the Petits Chanteurs under Nicolas Porte's direction or the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra under Deyan Pavlov caught my ear in a bad way. Thirteen-year-old actor and star soloist Jean-Baptiste Maunier sings competently and avoids the shrill sound many boy sopranos have when placed in the spotlight, but his sound is a bit too wet (almost garbled) for my liking.

Another possible caveat is that the third-to-last and last tracks include dialogue from the film, that soundtrack album 'extra' annoying enough when you speak the language. I found myself stopping the disc after track 20 during subsequent listens. However, the album production is slick, including a dustcover, track-list with timings (plus, inside the booklet, translations), as well as texts from the songs and their translations, movie stills, and credits.

So the sum of the album is unpretentious, involving, and generally delightful to the ear. Having won over audiences on its native soil, The Chorus by Bruno Coulais now faces the challenge of receiving success in other lands--a success it deserves.

Jeffrey Wheeler


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