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Michel Legrand: Paris Rome Vienna

The liner notes promise that Paris Rome Vienna “is regarded by many to be the greatest album of instrumental music ever recorded.” It is hard to know whether this claim is hilarious, or unbearably sad, or simply demented.

Perhaps all three. Paris Rome Vienna is shamelessly sappy piffle and fluff, miserably recorded (granted, it was 1954). Frenchman Michel Legrand, who was 22 at the time, and who would go on to become a successful film composer and serviceable jazz pianist, arranged these 30 tracks (all written by others) for a very large orchestra. The first 16 are from Legrand’s 1954 album I Love Paris. The program mostly stays predictably on-theme (“April in Paris,” “La Vie en Rose,” two takes of the title track). The remaining 14 selections are from Legrand’s “popular travelogue sequels” about Italy and Vienna.

The orchestra, with its vast quantities of cloying, seething, distorted strings, does not miss a precious trick. The liner notes (whose credibility has already been decimated) state that I Love Paris “sold literally millions of copies in America.” If so, it is further proof of the spiritual wasteland that was the 1950s, and of the execrable taste of a milieu and style known as “Eisenhower Vulgar” that apparently reached as far as France.

Originally Published