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Il Grande Duello / The Man Called Noon
  • Composed by Luis Bacalov
  • Quartet Records / 2012 / 64:43

Spaghetti westerns grew incredibly popular around the world in the wake of the success of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars.  Ennio Morricone’s iconic scores for the Leone films (and countless others) inspired a whole slew of wonderful music from a large number of composers – this incredibly dynamic fusion of distinctive textures (from harmonica, jew’s harp, whips) with pop (electric guitars, drums) and opera (the choral writing, and of course Edda dell’Orsa) is instantly identifiable to even people who’ve never seen a spaghetti western, and they are still extremely popular.  

One of the finest spaghetti western composers was Luis Bacalov, and two of his greatest entries in the genre are presented on this album from Quartet Records.  Il Grande Duello was a 1972 film starring Lee Van Cleef as a tough sheriff out to enforce the law his own way.  The composer’s spectacular, incredible score is largely based around a single theme – and what a theme it is, a genuine classic given renewed prominence a few years ago thanks to Quentin Tarantino using it in Kill Bill.  A gentle guitar introduction is joined by a harmonica, gradually strings are added and then the matchless voice of Edda dell’Orso.

Luis Bacalov

The presentation in the opening track manages to encompass intimate feelings either side of a genuinely epic sweep, and Bacalov forms the basis of the vast majority of the rest of the score from it, expanding on various ideas, bringing plenty of new colours to the score while retaining the same basic melodic material.  I love – and would hazard a guess that everybody loves – the brilliant fluttering winds that herald the piece a couple of times.  A secondary theme, heard far less, is a crazy uptempo piece of bluegrass, which breaks the album up nicely on its couple of appearances (there is a third one, a surprising and very touching harmonica solo version in the eighth track).

The album’s second score is The Man Called Noon, from a 1973 film starring Stephen Boyd and Richard Crenna and directed by Peter Collinson (who made The Italian Job a few years earlier).  Bacalov’s score is a very different affair from Il Grande Duello.  The main theme, full of wistful sentiment, is a beauty; there’s a calmness to it that plays against expectations.  In its first presentation it is kept in the strings; later, in “Discovering” dell’Orso is back to give it the final gloss.  But this is a more varied score than its predecessor on the disc, and following the opening version of the main theme comes a violent “Prologue” which is a brilliant piece of action scoring, later reprised in “Mr Rubble Noon” – which concludes with an explosive brassy theme of its own – and “Fire and Guns”.

Bacalov has spent the vast majority of his film scoring career in Europe but he originates from Argentina and there’s a certain South American flavour to “Highlands”, with its guitars and pan flutes, which brings another strong aspect to the score.  Another very warm, very lyrical theme comes in “Quietness”, this time for strings; again it’s a beautiful piece.  The very well-produced album cleverly alternates these moments of beauty with the visceral action/suspense material and it plays just perfectly.  The most obvious nod to Morricone comes in “Rimes”, with its clippity-clop sound clearly recalling Once Upon a Time in the West‘s “Cheyenne”.

These are two brilliant scores.  Il Grande Duello is the far more famous but The Man Called Noon is just as good (the main theme might not be quite so spectacular but its greater variety makes up for that).  They’ve both been out on CD a couple of times before but this pairing, with dynamic stereo sound and very interesting liner notes by Roberto Cueto, and Quartet’s album would make a great starting point to those who aren’t familiar with Bacalov’s music.  One of the finest film music albums of 2012 so far.  *****

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