Bruno Coulais,
The Chorus (Les Choristes)
(Cinemedia, 2004)

I suspect the film Les Choristes was so successful, both in its native France and in the international indie film world, because it not only showed young boys overcoming angst and ennui through the help of a beloved teacher but because it showed the viewer those noble beauties, pure childlike sentiments and kind-hearted souls we adults are often so nostalgic about. The 21 songs on this soundtrack will not disappoint those who hope to find the same feeling.

The orchestral elements on Les Choristes leap out on the ear with all the spiritual force of a Gregorian chant. Add the gorgeously celestial voices and the sound is almost retro-nostalgic in its musical depiction of goodness and purity. It is all so sweet and poetic.

"Vois sur ton Chemin (Look To Your Path)" sounds at once like a traditional schoolboy song and a lullaby about lost childhood. It winds through the track in various permutations, always reminding us of the beauty of innocence and the French language. In contrast, "In Memoriam" is celebratory and weighty. In Latin, which is fitting for a requiem, it also moves us a few steps away from the French countryside into a more universal place."The A Cappella in Memoriam" echoes astoundingly with an ebullient pizzicati. I had to listen carefully to see if indeed the boys were unaccompanied by instruments. In "Pepinot," the melancholy piano solo is lovely and meditative, less somber than the "L'Arrive a l'Ecole," which shows the dark world of the boys' school.

Bruno Coulais uses many minor chords to command the melody and mood, and the children's voices -- and their wonderful French accents -- dramatically articulate the mythic sense of a lost time and a lost teacher. Soloist Jean-Baptiste Maunier and the other boys sing like angels, especially on "Caresse sur l'Ocean," the much-too-short "Cerf-Volant (Kite)" and "La Nuit." The energetic, enthusiastic orchestra has an extraordinary string section. The soundtrack is not all angelic beauty but even "Compere Guilleri," an old children's song newly arranged by Coulhais for a jaunty peppy piano, contains just the right mix of melancholy with tongue-twisty wordplay ... as does "Nous Sommes de fond de l'Etang," a song about hopeless teachers. The only religious reference on the album is the kyrie eleison in the "Memoriam," yet the entire album feels majestically holy.

The score fits together well and it's only on the extremely annoying track 19, which includes a disturbing but important conflict in the film, and the last track (the witty inclusion of the boys' musical attempts) where one is reminded that this is indeed a soundtrack. I'm sure my French friends would find some of this soundtrack a bit too precious, but that is not to say they would not also love it ... very much indeed.

Performers and composers include Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint-Marc with director Nicolas Porte, soloist Jean-Baptiste Maunier, the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra directed by Deyan Pavlov, and pianists Raoul Duflot Verez and Dominic Faricier. Additional compositions are by Christophe Barratier.

Les Choristes is a fun, gentle album to listen to even if one did not see the film.

by Carole McDonnell
1 October 2005

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