- Composed by Ennio Morricone
- Warner Music / 2016 / 65m
Starring Olga Kurylenko and Jeremy Irons, Giuseppe Tornatore’s Correspondence looks at the relationship between an astrophysics student (who spends her spare time as a stunt performer) and her professor. This frequently long-distance relationship is facilitated through various technological means, but hasn’t really captured the imaginations of the Italian critics (the only country where the film’s been released so far) with generally middling-at-best reviews some way short of those for the director’s previous movie The Best Offer.
With Tornatore comes of course Ennio Morricone, this being their eleventh movie together (not counting various tv shows and commercials). Eyebrows might be raised when an 87-year-old composer says he still wants to find new things to do and different things to say but unbelievably, he actually has done something genuinely unlike anything I’ve heard from him before for this score, which focuses on very sparse ideas and executes them with electronics and very prominent electric guitar alongside the Prague orchestra. (Indeed, aspects of his previous Tornatore score were also new for him; the director is clearly a treasured collaborator for Morricone and inspires him to continue to grow as a composer.) Having said that – while it’s new, the score does not have the immediate appeal of many of the composer’s efforts of the last decade or so, which in being “safer” have tended to be more obviously attractive and moving.
It opens with the dreamlike “La casa sul lago”, piano solo (played beautifully by Morricone’s regular pianist Gilda Buttà) the dominant force. It weaves around, with a deliberate slight emotional disconnect, the strings rising and falling behind it. The melody doesn’t really stick like the composer’s so often do, but it’s certainly a nice piece. The second cue is the 13-minute “Una stella, miliardi di stelle” which plays like a meditation on the vastness of the universe or something, a very simple little figure repeated again and again, first for piano then synth, all the while with a calming electric guitar – I find it soothing, but am aware that others might be tempted to skip forward long before the track ends, so simple is the idea and so often is it repeated.
There’s more of a rock feel to “Improvvisazione in sol”, hint of Pink Floyd perhaps, guitar and synth pads and percussion – it really is new territory for Morricone and honestly I’d never have thought it was by him had I not known. “Stuntgirl” is more familiar – tense strings swirling, the guitar does appear but only in a supporting role this time, then there’s an explosion of action led by the strings but with no small part for electronics. Finally there’s a hint of the trademark Morricone romance in “Due camere in hotel”, complete with sweeping strings, and it’s very beautiful but (ironically) there are probably just too many previous, better, examples of the same style in the composer’s canon for it to leave too great an impression.
The titular “La corrispondenza” sees textural electronics eventually give way to a beautiful piano solo before the tide turns back again; I think it’s one of the highlight cues. Piano also dominates (in fact, is the only instrument featured in) “Una storia nella storia”, this time in pastiche classical romantic mode not completely unlike (but much more low-key than) the composer’s wonderful Canone Inverso. The guitar returns (with the piano) in the beautiful “Il ritorno di una stella”, one of the score’s most romantic moments, an unfamiliar instrumental setting perhaps but a familiar melodic sweep. Then there’s a much sparser piece, “L’infinito spazio”, shreds of a melody seemingly shimmering in and out cleverly; as with some other aspects of the score, the idea is excellent, the execution perfect, but somehow it doesn’t end up sounding as good through the speakers as it does on paper.
That melodic fragment then appears in full and is developed through the gorgeous “Una luce spenta”, a six-minute cue that is absolutely the highlight of the album: it’s a breezy piece of romance, with the piano and guitar joining forces with a solo violin and the string orchestra in beautiful style. “Parabola astratta” goes back to the dreamlike style, piano and strings both seemingly floating around each other; then in “Calco” comes another gorgeous violin solo. “Veloce corsa” sees the score take a rare return to a more suspenseful style, a very simple descending guitar figure joining some tense strings. In “Il cano simpatico” the score becomes very sparse once more, a piano dancing over a compelling electronic soundscape; then the piano once again takes on a classical sound in “Invenzione breve”. The album closes with “Disperata chittara”, in which the guitar is actually not particularly desperate at all, but rather mellow and relaxing.
There’s some beautiful music in Correspondence and little in the way of suspense material, but this isn’t a score of the big sweeping melodies which dominate Ennio Morricone’s latter-day music. Instead he has very carefully created a certain atmosphere – notes of love flitting in and out of a much wider piece which navigates seamlessly from classical influences up to much more modern stylings. It’s clever music and the dramatic journey it takes is brilliant but as I said, it doesn’t make such a strong and satisfying album as perhaps the quality of the individual components might suggest. It is great to hear the veteran composer still doing something different, and frankly any new music from him at this stage is very welcome indeed, so it’s a given that his many fans will find much to enjoy in it; but I imagine many won’t get as many plays out of the album as his two scores from 2015.