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Cinema Morricone
  • Composed by Ennio Morricone
  • Sony Classical / 97m

Ennio Morricone’s vast catalogue of film music includes every conceivable musical style, from all kinds of classical orchestral through pop and rock and the frankly indescribable. While there are many great attributes to his music that have attracted legions of fans over the years, one thing stands above all others for me – the pure, direct, sometimes gut-wrenchingly beautiful melodies – hundreds, thousands of them. The concept of this album is to strip his music bare, present some of those melodies in the most intimate fashion, arranged for simply piano and flute.

You could probably fill an album with music that was already arranged for piano and flute when Morricone wrote it in the first place – indeed, you could probably pick any two instruments and there would be enough to fill an album, such is the vastness of material. But that’s not what this was about – instead, take music from 15 of his most famous scores, rearranged, split over two discs – some of it “obvious” melodic gems, some much less so.

Pedroni & Andon

The arrangements were done by Simone Pedroni, a pianist known to film music fans thanks to a John Williams piano album he did a few years back; he performs, along with Sara Andon on flute, who has performed in the wind section of numerous Hollywood scores over a long period. It is, in a word, exquisite.

The first track is a suite from Once Upon a Time in the West. The extraordinary Jill’s Theme opens the suite – that amazing scene when the theme is heard for the first time in the film remains one of the most powerful musical moments in cinema history – here Andon takes on the role so memorably performed by Edda dell’Orso’s voice in the original piece, and it’s clear we’re in for something special. More daringly, the suite continues with the comical “Farewell to Cheyenne” and then “Man with a Harmonica”, with the flute sounding like no flute I’ve heard before.

“Playing Love” from The Legend of 1900 is playful, romantic, delightful; then the opening strains of “Saharan Dream” from The Secret of the Sahara sees bass flute (as in the original) setting up the mystical feel before Pedroni introduces the beautiful, romantic central melody. Another of the true classics follows with a suite of the three main themes from Cinema Paradiso – the sweet nostalgia of the main theme, the brilliantly-done contrast between generations in “Childhood and Maturity” (the playful side expressed delightfully) and of course the ravishing love theme.

Ennio Morricone

If someone asked me to name my favourite Morricone score I’d struggle to narrow it down to just one and I’d probably give a different answer on different days of the week – but in all likelihood if you asked often enough, the one that would come up most frequently would be The Mission. Whenever I watch the film I’m desperate for it to live up to its magnificent music but it never does. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a number of Morricone concerts and they always end with The Mission and it always brings the house down: seeing it performed live by 200 people on a stage is about as close as a non-religious person like me can get to having a religious experience. Now I know that hearing it performed by two people is also powerful: the (not as famous) “Brothers” opens the piece before we go through “Climb” to the rapturous “Falls” and then the incomparably beautiful “Gabriel’s Oboe”, which flows with so much life. Actually (rarely mentioned) the score itself features at least as much darkness as light, and that is represented with “Remorse”, a twisted reversal of the “Falls” theme; but of course redemption comes in the form of “On Earth As It Is In Heaven”, which would probably be one of the great staples of the classical repertoire had it been written in the 18th century. It’s just an astonishing piece of music and I love this completely different take on it.

The sweet, almost lullaby-like theme from Per Le Antiche Scala gets a ravishing performance before we hear the main theme from the fifth and final western Morricone did with the man who he went to school with and went on to become his greatest collaborator, Sergio Leone – A Fistful of Dynamite. Its blend of comedy, drama and unbelievable beauty is a neat summary of all those five scores, really – for whatever reason neither film nor score is as famous as the four that went before (or indeed the one non-western which came later) but it’s vintage stuff. Pedroni and Andon have to navigate between the two elements of the theme which are completely different from each other – the comical “Sean Sean Sean” and the rapturous romantic section – and do so seamlessly.

The second disc opens with a lengthy suite from another of my real favourites, Days of Heaven. That love theme – the unsurprisingly joyful “Happiness” theme – the Saint-Saëns-inspired main theme – the tense “Threshing” – each of the four elements is handled with aplomb, coming together into a wonderful piece. The performance, as on every piece, is truly heartfelt.

The theme from Fateless is (I’ve run out of different ways of saying this) another real beauty – a fine example of the composer’s ability to get just the right tone when he’s laying hope and goodness on top of tragic and sad circumstances. I Guardiani del Cielo is an overlooked gem of a score from the 1990s, represented here by its main theme – mystery, adventure and (inevitably) romance all coming to the fore.

We arrive at another masterpiece, this time Once Upon a Time in America – again represented by all of its main themes, starting with the simple and direct main theme before the dramatic Poverty theme, beautiful Cockeye’s Song and ending of course with the exquisite Deborah’s Theme. Again I marvel at the creative arrangements, again I marvel at the composer’s ability to conjure up all these beautiful melodies (in such different ways).

A more straightforward Hollywood romantic style is heard in the theme from Love Affair; but then there’s nothing straightforward about A Fistful of Dollars – credit to them for even attempting it in this setting, let alone actually pulling it off and making it work (it’s delightful!)

Most of Morricone’s most notable work has come from European cinema and European filmmakers; the American director for whom he enjoyed most success is Brian de Palma, and perhaps Morricone’s finest American score is The Untouchables, which must have been one of the hardest pieces for Pedroni to successfully arrange for this album – the Family theme and the Death theme not so much (but both are of course done wonderfully well) but the comic Al Capone theme with Andon somehow approximating a wah-wah trumpet using a flute is brilliant; and that epic finale music (which Morricone for some reason hated!) somehow sounds just as rousing here as it does in its more familiar setting.

Speaking of rousing… the album’s finale is “The Ecstasy of Gold” from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – one last iconic, indelible masterpiece. It’s another candidate to be the composer’s finest score (so deeply ingrained into the very fabric of the film thanks to Leone’s inspired way of working with his composer) and this powerful, wonderful piece is one of those that’s been interpreted in so many ways by so many artists (from Metallica to Yo-Yo Ma) but never loses an ounce of its power.

I’ve always loved imaginative reinterpretations of the great film music and this album more than succeeds in its aim of showing some of the most beautiful melodies by the Italian genius in an intimate setting. Listening is a luxurious experience – one great treat after another. The amazing thing is, there are so many other great themes, numerous more volumes of this could be filled. Cinema Morricone is producer Robert Townson’s first album since his shock departure from Varèse Sarabande – where he oversaw all those countless maroon-spined albums that were the cornerstone of so many film music collections – I hope it’s as successful as it deserves to be. Bravo to all concerned.

Rating: ***** | |


  1. dominique (Reply) on Sunday 19 January, 2020 at 16:52

    thank you, james for this wonderful review!

    just listening to it with a glass of red wine…

    one great treat after another…

  2. ghostof82 (Reply) on Sunday 19 January, 2020 at 17:13

    Well, thank you for this, I wasn’t aware of it before. Ordered it now!

  3. SARA ANDON (Reply) on Monday 20 January, 2020 at 19:26

    Thank you, dear James, for this stellar review of my duo CD of “Cinema Morricone” for flute and piano with amazing Italian pianist Simone Pedroni and legendary producer Robert Townson. Your beautiful kindess and eloquent descriptions are so musical in themselves! I am truly grateful. Thank you – it means more that words can express. I have loved Maestro Morricone’s glorious music since I was a small child – his music lights up my soul and transports me to another world. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to record his otherwordly music with my flute and get to work with such incredibly talented and passionate souls Simone and Robert on this phenomenal project. And, in turn, be able to share it with the world through this recording on Sony Classical. Where Morricone’s music is, there is happiness and love and deep-felt gratitude – and that is what it is all about in this life. Again, thank you for your tremendous expertise, passion and caring!!! <3 #powerofmusicbringspeopletogether <3