CD Reviews: Georges Auric and Lucy Whipple
Georges Auric, Film Music Vol. 4 ****
Marco Polo 8.225136
18 tracks - 59:33
In his early days, Georges Auric was a member of "Les Six," a group
of French composers attempting to create a new approach to music and art
in the 1920s. Basically, the group wanted to streamline music by removing
the heavy chromatic writing of Wagner (who was a heavy influence over French
composers at the beginning of the 20th century) and the influence of Debussy.
The result was really the roots of neo-Classical composition and even minimalism,
in that they returned to an 18th century concept of harmonic movement while
using repetitive cells of music. That is not to imply that the music is
devoid of interest; in fact, the opposite is true because added to this
"new" style was a rhythmic development influenced by American Jazz, and
also played with musical form.
Jean Cocteau was a patron of this new music and is indelibly linked
to the French avant garde of the 1920s. Auric collaborated with him on
six films, including La Belle et la Bete (1946) easily one of the
masterpieces of French film music (released on Marco Polo 8.223765).
Based on an Andre Gide novella, Cocteau's La Symphonie Pastoral (1946)
tells of a blind orphan girl and the conflict that results in her adoptive
family as the jealousy increases between her adoptive parents, and the
amorous attentions of their eldest son. The "Main Title" is accompanied
by four extended pieces from the second half of the film. The score is
magical, at times belying the ruin that is to come. The orchestration is
fascinating; Auric's piano fights against the strings in a near concerto
style. Small motifs are recognizable, but the "leitmotif" style popular
in Hollywood is absent. While the music is labeled as a "suite" there does
not appear to be much doctoring to fill out the ends of the music (the
abrupt endings must match the scene cuts). As it is, La Symphonie Pastorale
stands comfortably along side the best piano and orchestra film scores
of the 1940s.
Macao (1939) is set during the Japanese-Chinese war and revolves
around the intrigue from an arms sale gone awry. The music is precisely
fitting of "Les Six," especially in "Chinoiserie," but the writing also
bears similarity to Arthur Honegger's film work of the time. Evidently,
the music comes from a "stack bearing the name 'Macao'," and Adriano attempted
to piece together the music. The score is gloomier in most of its constituent
parts, especially the dramatic "Interlude." Most will find this more difficult
listening, but it is a great example of alternative dramatic scoring from
the early years of cinema.
Du rififi (1954) is the epitome of French "film noir." The orchestra
is substantial, including three saxophones, harp, piano and celesta. The
nearly 20 minutes of music included make it obvious that this is one of
the great scores of the 1950s. The bluesy "Main Title" kicks off the four
excerpts. "Preparations" is filled with amazing countrapuntal work. This
is a score that deserves a fuller restoration and makes an interesting
comparison to techniques employed by Rósza in his forays into "film
noir," and even those by Herrmann in his Hitchcock scores.
The disc closes with the "Main Title" and "Finale" to Le salaire
de la peur (1953), Henri-Geroges Clouzot's masterpiece about four men
hired to truck nitro-glycerin through the South American mountains in what
must be some of the most tense scenes on film. Auric supplied two pieces:
the "Main Title" and a version of Johann Strauss, Jrs. "The Blue Danube"
heard in the end of the film as a source cue (arranged by Auric). The "Main
Title" opens with mostly percussion and moves into gentle Spanish guitar
music to help set the locale. The powerful finale is in a sense reenacted
here (through sound effects) giving the CD a rather jarring conclusion.
(At any rate, this is a film that everyone must see.)
The recording is engineered fairly well with bass muddiness at times.
As is the case with other recordings by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra,
the strings get a bit thin in more difficult passages and intonation is
sometimes a problem; overall the interpretations come across just fine.
As far as the music goes, this is an amazing collection from one of French
cinema's great masters. Auric may be best known for his score to Moulin
Rougebut he actually wrote 95 film scores (an impressive number by
any stretch of the imagination), and most of this output is all but unknown
to film score fans. -- Steven A. Kennedy
The Ballad of Lucy Whipple ***
Intrada MAF 7088
15 tracks - 36:38
It's old hat to ask this, but why won't someone give Bruce Broughton
a blockbuster to sink his teeth into? His Lost in Space soundtrack
was easily the best ingredient in the movie, but now he's basically relegated
to TV movie purgatory. The composer's first new work in two years is his
third tele-soundtrack in a row, following on from the biblical opulence
of Jeremiah and movie-of-the-week Night Ride Home. And although
Broughton's Ballad of Lucy Whipple is set in the Old West, it's
no Silverado. But let's not forget that Broughton cut his teeth
on such TV fare as How the West was Won and Gunsmoke, so
perhaps it would be unfair to compare Lucy with Silverado
or his equally rousing Tombstone.
Lucy Whipple stars Glenn Close as a widow staking out a new life
for her family in Gold Rush California. The eponymous Lucy is her spunky
teenage daughter who undergoes a rite of passage. She is understandably
the recipient of the disc's strongest theme, which weaves its way through
the tracks. It echoes John Dunbar's theme from Dances with Wolves
-- but played on a whistle.
The other predominant theme is that for Lucy's brother Butte, a more
accomplished violin-led riff that is integrated into other tracks. The
emotional core of this disc is appropriately right in the center of the
running order, with the score really coming alive on the discs longest
tracks, "Jake's no Buck" and "The Death of Butte" adagio. The impact of
the album then wanes until Lucy's theme is resurrected in the final 52-second
Broughton has restricted the supporting instruments to those that would
actually have been found in the time period of the movie (including fiddle,
tin whistle and baritone horn). A noble gesture, but this is undermined
by the intrusive use of anachronistic synths. And at least some effort
was made for authenticity with references to traditional source music "Sweet
Betsy from Pike" and "Seeing the Elephant."
Broughton's liner notes describe the score as "stark, sentimental, thoughtful,
light-hearted, tragic, aggressive and simple..." Arguably, not every listener
will be taken through such a gauntlet of emotions in the brief running
time offered by this disc, but at least the composer has provided clues
(however broad they may be) as to his intentions. Repeated listening may
offer more enlightenment, but it's hard to imagine anyone but the die-hard
Broughton fans wanting to pick this up in the first place. It's not a failure
by any standards, but the niche market for this type of traditional Little
House on the Prairie meets Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman-style whimsy
must be on the decline.
Of curiosity value for Broughton completists and western traditionalists,
but don't expect it to rock your world. -- Nick Joy