- Composed by Ennio Morricone
- Polydor / 1996 / 86:24
An ambitious 1996 miniseries, Nostromo was an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s sprawling, brilliant novel starring Claudio Amendola in the title role and an impressive supporting cast including Albert Finney, Colin Firth, Brian Dennehy and Claudia Cardinale. It got mixed reviews when it was first shown and (in this country at least) has now disappeared completely, frustratingly unavailable on DVD and not shown on television since the first airing. While the reviews for the show may have been mixed, reaction to Ennio Morricone’s music was anything but – few people hear it and don’t love it. I usually build a review up to a grand conclusion – this time I’ll open early by saying this is a genuine candidate as the finest music that’s ever been written for television and in terms of Morricone’s output as a whole, I’d place it slightly below his scores for Sergio Leone and The Mission but below a great deal else. Regular readers will know that I’m not exactly shy in my praise for this composer – in other words, I like it.
It’s all about the themes. ”The Silver of the Mine” is, simply put, my favourite single track of film music, six minutes of pure, undiluted bliss. The technique of using a wordless soprano solo is one that Morricone has used on countless occasions over the years, but of all the great romantic themes in that style – Once Upon a Time in the West, The Red Tent, all the others – this stands out for me. The exquisite, soaring melody is carried at first by the voice over relatively gentle orchestral accompaniment, then taken up by the strings without the voice, and finally everything comes together for the final variation. To hear it is to fall in love, be dazzled by the genius of Morricone; I’m staggered that it isn’t more frequently listed amongst his finest pieces – perhaps not enough people are aware of it.
The greatness doesn’t stop there – there is a whole group of wonderful themes here. The score’s main theme – “The Tropical Variation” – is a scene-setting piece with a driving, rhythmic figure repeated by piano with accompaniment coming from a caval flute cleverly doubling a trumpet for a wonderful effect – there’s a hint of tension to it, a slight feeling of awkwardness, but it’s very memorable. ”Nostromo” is a highly-romantic, expansive melody featuring pan pipes and, occasionally, creative vocals and is another stunner which would frankly be the finest theme in most film composers’ careers but, Morricone being Morricone, isn’t even the finest one in this score. Finally, “Greed” takes the opening main theme and twists it into a far darker version, and includes in its middle section another melody which provides a kind of “light from dark” moment, emerging from nowhere before gradually trickling away again. It’s not another runaway, expansive piece, more one that creeps up on you and takes a few moments to impart its beauty. ”Gisella” is a slightly more downbeat theme, but again there’s a great beauty inherent to it.
Each of those themes receives various arrangements over the course of the album, many of them genuinely different (but “The Silver of the Mine” does get a verbatim reprise to close the album). I love the gentle, calm variation of that theme in “Weapons of Love” which turns itself into a hypnotising version of the “Nostromo” theme half way through. The haunting vocal of “For Emilia” closing the first disc is stunning; then the melody is heard in an exquisite viola solo played by Fausto Anzelmo.
Intertwined with all those variations is a host of other music – often of the suspense variety, but perfectly listenable and frequently compelling, even if obviously it doesn’t have the immediate attraction of the grand, romantic themes. I love the brief exuberance of “Sulaco’s Band”, a brassy ceremonial which appears out of nowhere but fits perfectly into the score. It’s just such a rich score, mesmerising in its beauty and rewarding each new listen – even after countless dozens of them – with something new. The album is slightly odd in that it runs 86 minutes so is split over two CDs, but the six-minute “The Silver of the Mine” is included twice, but to be honest if both CDs were just filled up of repeats of that track it would still be worth buying, such are the joys it offers. A bona fide masterpiece by perhaps the most prodigiously gifted film composer there’s ever been – it just doesn’t get any better. Extraordinary music.