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For some reason, even though Maurice Jarre has written some of the best classic scores of all time, film music messageboards across the Internet continually overlook these, call them overrated, and proceed to bash his synthesized scores.  Now, I think some of the synth bashing is true, but in actuality Jarre has composed some of the best film music of our time.  Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago are probably his most famous orchestral scores, but he has done some great work (both orchestral and synth) for over 100 films, such as Ghost (the sleeper hit of 1990), Hitchcock's Topaz, and Witness.  This compilation, put out in March of 2000 by Silva Screen, continues their long line of inspired composer tributes.   In the past, there have been a few absolutely magnificent entries in the series (The Essential Jerry Goldsmith) and some duds (Essential John Williams).  I think this one is definitely one of the better albums, providing over 140 minutes of music, a lot of which has been released before in their other compilations.  I am almost positive, though, that there were a few new additions for this entry.  Silva's favorite orchestra (the City of Prague Philharmonic) and the Crouch End Festival Chorus are the main performing entities here, and I think the orchestra is well beyond some of their more rocky recordings, a lot of which have several glaring errors.  Thankfully, there is very little of that here.  The sound quality is booming and crisp as always, and the liner notes give specifics on all the movies.  If you can't stand Maurice Jarre, I advise you to get this - you may change your mind.  Jarre's fans will also probably find some material here that isn't commonly available.  In short, it is well worth a purchase.


Track by Track Review

Disc 1:
1. Lawrence of Arabia
    Overture (4:25)
The album gets off to a rousing start with the Overture from Lawrence of Arabia.  In case you couldn't tell from my full  Lawrence review, this is one of my absolute favorite pieces of film music of all time.  Silva took this from their full rerecording with Tony Bremner and the Philharmonia Orchestra, which apparently had some remastering since it sounds a lot more spacious than before.  Artificial reverb?  Anyway, this presents all the main themes from the film, all of which are now cultural icons.

2. Doctor Zhivago
    Suite (9:11)
The Other famous Jarre score is for the romantic epic of Doctor Zhivago.  Jarre, of course, penned Lara's Theme, which has since become something of a pop hit.  This suite presents ten whole minutes of his lush score, opening with a gargantuan, almost Lawrence-like theme for strings before segueing into Lara's theme.  Following is one of the composer's trademark military marches in the style of Lawrence or Topaz.  Next is a waltz entitled "At the Studen Cafe" with hints of accordion among the lush strings.  A Russian Troika follows, adding to the ethnic atmosphere blended with a thick layer of Hollywood musical effects.  Another waltz follows, full of the Golden Age strings, as well as woodwind and piano flourishes.  A triumphant reprise of the main title and Lara's theme round out the suite.  I don't have the full soundtrack album to this, but after hearing this suite I may have to get it.

3. A Passage to India
    Adela's Theme (2:23)
Although composed in 1985, this sounds a lot older, using a foxtrot/swing rhythm under a typical kitsch Golden Age string theme.

4. Jesus of Nazareth
    Suite (8:21)
Whoa.  Here's another album I'm going to have to buy.  For the humongous miniseries detailing the life of Christ, Jarre headed back into his classic score territory, turning out a historical epic score worthy of Miklos Rozsa or Alex North.  After a dissonant brass attack, the Prelude introduces a low, ominous string theme before venturing into a noble, almost understated string theme.  "The Annunciation" continues the low desert ambience with ascents up the harmonic scale by woodwinds, climaxing in a hugely dissonant crescendo.  "Mary's Theme" gives a gentle, elegant theme for the mother of Jesus, full of woodwinds and backed by strings (it is unfortunately marred somewhat by an out of tune oboe at the beginning.)  With the arrival of "The Three Kings," Jarre appropriately uses a lilting, swaying ostinato in woodwinds under an exotic theme.  Next is "The Birth of Christ," which returns to the Prelude theme with full chorus, conveying almost unspeakable power.  The "Christ Theme" rounds out the suite.  This lengthy track is easily a highlight of the entire compilation.

5. Ghost
    End Credits (4:26)
The majority of this score was synthesized, but the End Credits are fully orchestral, presenting a four-minute concert arrangement of the "Love Theme."  The more popular tune was probably Alex North's "Unchained Melody," but Jarre composed a nice, somewhat memorable theme for strings that complements North's super-hit.  It harkens back to his classic scores with chromatic, wistful, and bittersweet strings.

6. Villa Rides
    Main Theme (3:28)
Jarre is also particularly adept at scoring Westerns, particularly the Mexican elements.  This presents his theme for Villa Rides, an upbeat, lush, and exotic piece for full orchestra and ethnic instruments.  It plays like a fun combination of Alex North's Bite the Bullet and one of Jarre's secondary Lawrence themes.

7. The Fixer
    Suite (7:11)
In terms of orchestration, this is probably the most innovative suite of the album, scored almost exclusively for solo violin and percussion.  The desolate opening presents a vaguely Jewish-style theme for violin almost like Itzhak Perlman's solos on Williams' Schindler's List.  The percussion elements are subdued and menacing, adding a grim presence to the violin melody.  Later, in the finale cue, the entire string section joins, at one point adding a pizzicatto ostinato to the theme.  In the final minutes, a triumphant melody for full orchestra bursts into the speakers, providing a trademark Jarre moment of triumph.

8. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome
    Fanfare/"I Ain't Captain Walker" (5:00)
Here, Jarre lets loose with a monstrous action score that sounds like something Jerry Goldsmith could have come up with.  This, however, is tongue-in-cheek, obvious from the opening fanfare.  It's overblown, it's bombastic, but one can't help loving it - the City of Prague Philharmonic lets loose with its full brass section in one of the most exciting cues of the compilation.  After a subdued opening for the second cue, an ethereal female chorus appears, segueing into a brassy, fully-orchestral action cue  - complete with theremin in the background!  Also noteworthy is the orchestration - besides the aforementioned choir and theremin, there is also a part for the Australian didgeridoo (made famous in Goldsmith's Alien) and a Death Valley triangle.

9. Red Sun
    Main Title/ The Samurai (6:59)
For this, Jarre provided another memorable theme, unfortunately marred by accordian and excessive ethnic instruments, which make it sound like video game music.  "The Samurai" continues the ethnic influence, now with Japanese instruments.  The final few minutes feature some of Jarre's Western scoring, again in the mode of North's Bite the Bullet.

10. Topaz
     March (2:36)
Topaz was Jarre's sole collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock.  At the time he made this, Hitch was still interested in espionage (he had just finished Torn Curtain), but Jarre's score has more in common with John Addison's Torn Curtain score than anything Herrmann did.  This march is deeply rooted in British military lore, sounding much like Battle of Britain or Voice of the Guns.

11. The Mosquito Coast
    Allie's Theme (3:34)
Here we hit a string of Jarre's synthesized work, which is unfortunately the low point of the compilation.  "Allie's Theme" is a New Age-ish theme with all kinds of grating synths, again sounding like video game music.  Still, this synth work sounds much better than some of the drivel to come out of Hollywood lately, and it's interesting to hear him try to translate his epic mode of writing to synthetic instruments.

12. The Year of Living Dangerously
     Kwan's Sacrifice (4:03)
The New Age atmosphere continues, now mixed with ethnic elements.  Avoid.

13. Witness
    Building the Barn (5:01)
Witness was probably Jarre's most successful voyage into SynthWorld, in which he mainly used them as he would an orchestra.  Thus, the atmosphere is quite surreal - while the general sound is similar, the synths give the music an otherworldly feel.  Apparently, Jarre chose to work with synths because the movie is about the Amish and they think that acoustic instruments are evil.  In any case, the material is quite lush and lulling.  An orchestral version appears on disc 2.

14. Is Paris Burning?
    The Paris Waltz
Silva decides to end disc 1 with orchestral music rather than synth, but this is a little different from the rest.  The introduction uses some grating atonality with accordian, which unfortunately weights it down.  The main waltz material is quite entertaining, but again the accordian detracts something from it.

Disc 2:
1. Doctor Zhivago
    Lara's Theme (3:17)
This presents a lush, more fuller arragement of Lara's Theme, heard earlier on disc I.

2. Ryan's Daughter
    Suite (8:53)
This is probably one of the most subdued selections on the album, using a bucolic, romantic atmosphere in the opening to present the main theme.  The rest of the music moves somewhat more quickly.  Overall, a nice, somewhat forgettable entry in the Jarre oevure.

3. The Professionals
    Overture (5:23)
This was Jarre's first Western score and probably his best.  The Overture presents the main thematic material, again in the mood of Bite the Bullet, but more exciting.  Several Latin elements make their way into the quaint Americana atmosphere.

4. Fatal Attraction
    Theme (4:59)
Originally scored for synths alone, this is an orchestral arrangement of the main theme, heavy on tranquil piano.  It fits into the category of Ryan's Daughter - nice but forgettable.

5. The Tin Drum
    Suite (6:56)
Guess which instrument is featured in the main title?  Jarre provides a modest, charming orchestral score heavy on the tin drum and military snares, as well as several other unusual ethnic instruments.   In the suite is some lush string writing and bittersweet saxophone performing an offshoot of several other Jarre themes.

6. No Way Out
    Main Title (3:29)
Oh boy - SynthLand returns.  This composition, however, is more listenable than some of the other material, since Jarre uses the keyboards as an evocative soundscape - possibly one of his best synth pieces.

7. Enemy Mine
    Suite (9:25)
10 minutes of a combination synth/orchestra sci-fi score.  The synths, of course, overwhelm it, turning it into basically an alien sound effects suite.  The orchestra-only parts are a little better, sounding almost Wagnerian in scope at points.

8. The Night of the Generals (3:53)
Here, Jarre lets loose with a martial orchestral  march with a droning military snare and fortissimo horn/trombone attacks.  The second section presents a traditional waltz in Jarre's trademark minor modes.

9. El Condor
    Main Title (3:20)
This starts with a menacing Prelude, and it's not until the second minute that one realizes that this is a Western score.  The main theme is vintage Jarre, but not as upbeat as his other Westerns.  Once again, he principally scores the Mexican aspects of the film.

10. The Man Who Would Be King (4:24)
This two part suite presents another unmistakably Jarre score, first comprised of action music and military marches, but segueing into a calmer End Credits made up of a traditional hymn as well as the composer's own melody.

11. Witness
    Building the Barn (Orchestral Version ) (4:39)
This is an exact transcription of the synth version, only now for full orchestra.  The effect is quite different - much less alien and surreal, showing this to be a quaint, bucolic string-driven piece.

12. Lawrence of Arabia
    Suite (12:58)
Silva brings the album full circle with this lengthy suite from Jarre's magnum opus.  The cues are Main Title, First Entrance into the Desert, Night and Stars, Lawrence and Tafas, and End Title.  If you want more of my ramblings on Lawrence, go to the  full review.

In summation, this is probably the best Jarre compilation available, truly showcasing the many facets of the veteran composer.



 
The Essential Maurice Jarre: The Final Score
Music Rating 10/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 7/10
Orchestral Performance 8/10
Sound Quality 10/10
Length 8/10
Overall 9/10


Doctor Zhivago: The Essential Maurice Jarre is Copyright 2000 by Silva Screen.  Review Copyright 2000 by Andrew Drannon.  All Rights Reserved.