April 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Michael McLennan
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster: Len Mullenger

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Les Notes de L'Écran (Notes from the Screen): The Best of French Film Music, Vol.1  
Music composed by George Delarue
Jacquou le Croquant (1969): 6 tracks – [13.37]
Les Chevaux du Soleil (1979): 8 tracks –[16.00]
Le Chandelier (1977): 6 tracks – [13.55]
Le Jeune Homme Vert (1979) 6 tracks – [15.04]
  Available on Cinefonia Records (CFSAM001)
Running Time: 58:38
NOTE: To purchase this release direct from Cinefonia’s website, go to the ‘Cinefonia Records’ tab, place the mouse over ‘Catalogue – CFR’ tab and select ‘Les Notes de L’Ecran’ here.

From 1950 to his death in 1992 French composer Georges Delerue wrote the music for approximately 320 films and television productions. From this enormous quantity of music this CD presents just under an hour from four of his television scores.

I am only familiar with a small amount of Delerue’s vast output, mostly music he wrote from either well-known French films, or English language titles. As French television programmes almost never play on UK TV, when I received this CD I had not heard of any of the four programmes. The brief CD notes give only titles, dates and very basic screen credits. There is a little more information available on the Internet Movie Database, but only a little. Some context would be very useful in understanding just what the music on this album is about.

Jacquou le Croquant was a mini-series from (1969). Judging by the opening music, with its march rhythm and military drum one can only assume some sort of martial drama. However, the theme soon turns romantic, with a typically elegant if uninspiring Delerue melody. Maybe it is the thin, constricted sound, but the music sounds flat and involving. The following ballad for flute and harp is charming, and would be much more appealing if the sound were not so bad, with the strings simply strangled by the mediocre recording. The tender ‘Adagio champêtre’ suffers in the same way, as indeed do all six selections from the series. Not the best way to launch the album.

Happily matters improve considerably with Les Chevaux du soleil (The Horses of the Sun), a lavish 13 part drama series from 1979. This was a generational saga set in French Algeria spanning many years up to independence in the 1960’s and still appears to be remembered with great affection. The right tracks open with a lyrical main theme for string orchestra, followed by a lovely ‘Trieste est l’amour’ with a simple melody for what seems to be some sort of dulcimer against a warm backdrop of strings. ‘Promenade en forêt’ has the haunting qualities most often associated with Delerue, a melancholy lyricism that is hugely effective. If ‘La marche de l’empire’ is essentially functional, ‘La marche de la reine’ is much more atmospheric, if still a slight piece, the composer on firmer ground with the spectral, Algerian inflected ‘Alger la Blanche’. ‘L’aube sur la mosqueé’ has a pure clarity, leading to the end title version of the main theme, with flute and harp joining the string orchestra for a more impassioned treatment of the melody.

Le Chandelier was a 1977 television play starring Marie-Christine Barrault. The sound quality is notably inferior to Les Chevaux du soleil, but the opening theme, ‘Appel’ offers a strong example of Delerue’s gift for a sombre romantic setting. Solo violin against a chamber orchestra setting suggests a repressed 19th century costume drama. Two dances follow before the title theme paints a portrait of 19th century angst with a tortured violin accompanied by piano. ‘Mouvements lyriques’ continues in the same vein, setting its melody for solo violin, while the orchestral finale suggests a bleak finish to the story.

Le Jeune homme vert (The Young Green Man) was a 1979 series adapted from a novel by Michel Déon. The sound is improved for the main title, the music rather more inspired, finding Delerue typically combining his lyrical touch with neo-classical elegance. Sadly following the main title the sound is variable, the attractive ‘Thème de Marie pour guitare’ being blighted by hiss, the lovely ‘Ballade mélancolique’ sounding much richer. ‘Promenade pour flûte et orchestre’ is delightful, then a polished waltz leads to the gorgeous title track, another version of the opening theme.

I’d take issue with the subtitle of this disc. Not just to be pedantic and note that it can not be the best of French film music when every last note was written for television. But to offer the opinion that while Les Chevaux du soleil and Le Jeune homme vert are appealing they do not represent either the best of Delerue or of French film music in general. The selections from Jacquou le Croquant and Le Chandelier are of no major import.

A very mixed bag let down by in places mediocre sound. One for Delerue completists only.

Gary Dalkin

Rating: 2.5

Michael McLennan adds:-

I must count myself under the completists Gary refers to in closing his review. I found this CD very entertaining (if a little overlong). I’m ashamed to admit I was so entertained by hearing fresh material in Delerue’s highly-identifiable voice that I never noticed the sound quality. Other Delerue hardliners may feel the same way, and enjoy this one as much as I did.

Michael McLennan

3.5

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