December 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 Vol. 3 - Les Grandes Familles/Sam & Sally  
Music composed by Vladimir Cosma
Performed by Unknown Orchestra
  Cinéfonia Records (CFSAMP003)
Running Time: 66:29
Les Grandes Familles: 38:11
Sam & Sally: 28:18

See also:

  • Les Notes de L’Ecran Vol. 1
  • Film Music of Vladimir Cosma
  • French film music, I am sure, is to many people only Georges Delerue and to a lesser extent Gabriel Yared, but as proved by the numerous releases of French record label Cinéfonia, the film music of the land of wine and cheese is so much more than Yared and Delerue. This release from the label, in their series Les Notes de l’Ecran, showcases two scores from French composer Vladimir Cosma – Les Grandes Familles from 1989 and Sam & Sally from 1978. The first score has a lot in common with Delerue, sharing that affinity for sweeping orchestral colours so evident in the master’s music. Sam & Sally is the weaker of the two, mainly electronic, but with its own pleasures. Together they make for a strong, varied album.

    By far the real treat of the album, the 38-minute score to Les Grandes Familles is filled with infectious melodies in lush orchestrations. It is dominated by a remarkably upbeat yet beautiful main theme (‘Les Grandes Familles’) and a satisfying melancholic waltz (‘La valse de l’adieu’) which resurfaces all over the score in different instrumentations and different tempos. A theme introduced in a wonderful baroque minuet arrangement in ‘Le temps de château’ also returns on romantic solo oboe in ‘La fin des châteaux’ – a highlight of the score. It is a very beautiful theme, my favourite in the score, and it is a shame that there are only two performances of it on the album.

    The overall style of the score ranges from the light and romantic to the melancholic – all for the most part very beautiful. There are, as in much French film music I find, some quirky moments, as the high-paced ‘Polka de Lulu’ and ‘Plaisir tzigane’ which has a cabaret-like musical feeling to it, which I found a bit disturbing to the overall feel and listening experience. It kind of breaks the sweeping, romantic pace of the score. A bright romantic waltz in ‘Le demoiselle et le barbon’ also stands out a bit from the rest as a special cue, but for different reasons – very enjoyable, with a slight restaurant-music feel to it. I can hear it playing in the background as a couple in love share a candle-lit dinner… it really makes the heart soften a bit. It’s followed by a flute rendition of the main theme, then a heartfelt performance on strings that makes the romantic feel complete. Only in a couple of instances is the romantic feel replaced by a more threatening, dark presence – for example tremolo strings and minor brass chords in ‘La fin d’un mythe’.

    It is wonderful how the score alters between the sweeping romanticism of the main theme, unspoiled, untroubled, and the melancholic, more restrained romance of the more complex and troubled ‘adieu’ waltz. Most of Les Grandes Familles will have you leaning back in you chair, closing your eyes and just enjoying the sheer pleasantness of this music. Much like a good French wine.

    But if Les Grandes Familles is a good wine, Sam & Sally is cheese – and frankly not a very good cheese. It is mostly electronic, with a lot of synth sounds that I am sure was modern and all in ’78 but now sounds terribly dated. Much of this music has a quite annoying ‘blip-blop’ style to it that really does not make it a very good listen. Cosma uses a lot of different sounds, from saxophone to guitar to an assorted selection of strange synth sounds that just does not do the trick for me – often it ends up just being too cheesy, or just lingering in uninteresting atmospheric moods.

    It is a shame though, since when listening closely, you notice that there is a thematic consistency to all these blips and blops. And there are moments which actually will have you tapping your feet and feeling the swing – ‘Le lit baladeur’ is such a moment when the main theme (presented in ‘Sam & Sally (générique)’ is given a nice big band treatment. ‘Slow love’ is a nice love theme on sax, reminding quite a lot of Bernard Herrmann’s lyrical main theme from Taxi Driver, believe it or not.  ‘Rencontre en Sicile’ is a quite beautiful, romantic guitar cue that actually saves the whole album from leaving a sour aftertaste. It is a shame that not all of Sam & Sally has the melodic qualities and acoustic feel of these cues. As far as electronic instrumentation goes, Sam & Sally is a child of its time, and one needs to listen to it as such. But ultimately it is a cheese that has been stored for too long and one needs to cut off a lot of the edges of this one to reach the few parts of it that is still fresh and enjoyable.

    If Les Grandes Familles would be alone on an album, that would definitely be a four star album. It is such a charming, pleasant score. But as a good wine is combined with a not so good cheese, it loses a bit of its appeal. I have to judge this album as a whole, and then I must say that Sam & Sally detracts somewhat from the overall listening experience, and we end up at a three and a half stars rating. But that being said, there is always the alternative of just stopping the listen after the end of Les Grandes Familles – indeed it alone is worth the price of the album. I suggest looking at Sam & Sally as a mediocre bonus, but one that indeed contains a couple of good tracks. Because in the end, not even a quite mediocre cheese can destroy a really good wine, and we end up with an enjoyable overall experience.

    Adam Andersson


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