Friday, September 27, 2013

Michel Legrand – Les Parapluies de Cherbourg

   He is the one of most famous French popular music composers. He became popular in first decade after war but his real position was establishing through all the years until today. He was praised at his start. In 1954 when he presented his first record I Love Paris, he was 22 years old and already active as an arranger, composer and pianist. Over a hundred albums and hundreds of public performances with different orchestras all over the world was consequence of his ability to write music in clear style, with no odd complexity or annoying easiness. His melodies are surprisingly fresh and enough simple to catch listener’s sympathy at once. His style was a mixture of clear and elegant, almost classically transparent texture and sublime harmonic modulations with some late romantic or even impressionistic ideas of orchestral colors.
   It’s interesting Legrand who was performing and recording with greatest stars of pop music and with classic opera divas, with singing actors and jazz giants, never became a star himself. Among artists he was working with were Ella Fitzgerald and Jessye Norman, Sarah Vaughan and Kiri Te Kanawa, Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles, Barbara Streisand and Lena Horne, Diana Ross and Shirley Bassey. He was prolific jazz composer, arranger and pianist working with John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Phil Woods, Art Farmer, Bill Evans and many more. He recorded also classical piano repertoire, publishing albums with music of Erik Satie, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, John Cage and Conlon Nancarrow. But his first title to fame was always music for films.

Michel Legrand – Les Parapluies de Cherbourg Suite (1979)

   Over a hundred and fifty films with music of Michel Legrand are the most celebrated part of his achievements. Some of them are musicals with many great songs becoming hits and jazz standards. Revolutionary concept was Jacques Demy 1964 musical Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) with all dialogues sung like in traditional opera. Romantic love story with Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo was also best selling and well received movie, prized with Palme d’or in Cannes and nominated to three Academy Awards – among others for best music. This was very touchy one of most significant movies in the sixties, known also for perfectly composed, obsessive music augmenting emotional powers.
   The problem with publishing cinematic music is it’s complication for copyright issues. Movie is complexe work of art with rights of many artists and producers. For such reason publishing of soundtrack albums are limited to main company. But this can be very unjust for composer who still owns his musical ideas. It’s natural tendency to allow performances in many places and circumstances, especially when work has potential to be a big hit. This is why best composers arrange concert pieces shortening theatrical works to about half hour symphonic suites. Michel Legrand created such suite out of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg music and another concert piece Theme & Variations for Two Pianos & Orchestra. Theme was from The Go-between, a 1970 romantic drama written by Harold Pinter and directed by Joseph Losey.
   These two symphonic works has been recorded in London EMI studios (May 21-24, 1979). The London Symphony Orchestra was conducted by composer who also played piano in Theme & Variations. The second pianist was Robert Noble, musician working with LSO, recording as session man for movies. His piano and celesta can be heard on Frank Zappa’s The London Symphony Orchestra album. He was also working with John Williams (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark), Charles Mackerras, John Lord and Claus Ogerman. Well written, well recorded and nicely produced, this record can be very good invitation to Michel Legrand’s music. Three and half on five stars scale.

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