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Morricone: Cinema Rarities

Not surprisingly, in the months following the great Ennio Morricone’s passing, various albums were released celebrating his music, most interestingly various re-recording projects of different kinds. Of these, the one most obviously “sanctioned” by his family was Cinema Suites for Violin and Orchestra, with soloist Marco Serino accompanied by the Orchestra Haydn di Bolzano e Trento conducted by the composer’s son, Andrea. It was essentially an impeccable recording but with one obvious drawback – the arrangements were in large part the ones from the composer’s legendary 2004 album with Yo-Yo Ma, perhaps the finest album of recordings of film music ever released, but with the cello parts replaced with violin – and so it was impossible not to compare it with that earlier album, which had an X-factor to it which set it apart.

As unfair as it may have been, I was left slightly disappointed that there hadn’t been more effort to distinguish it from the Ma album – most obviously, by including some music that was originally composed for violin and orchestra, or to take some other pieces and rearrange them for the instrument. Remarkably, a year later, that is essentially exactly what this album is – while seasoned Morricone collectors would baulk at the use of “rarities” in its title, the pieces here will undoubtedly be less familiar in general to more casual fans of the composer – the arrangements are mostly (though not entirely) by Morricone himself, made for concert performance – but almost none of them has been recorded before.

Marco Serino and Ennio Morricone

Serino was Morricone’s violin soloist for the last twenty years or so of his career, both on his film score recordings and in his vast number of concerts, so he knows the composer’s music intimately. On this album, he conducts the string Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto, augmented in some tracks by piano and a keyboard. To cut to the chase – it is magnificent, everything a Morricone fan might want it to be, exquisitely-realised recordings of some of the most beautiful melodies the legendary composer graced us with.

We kick off with one of the most beautiful of all in a suite from La Califfa, a song-like theme that stands alongside Morricone’s greatest; and the following Marco Bolognini Suite may begin with the album’s only dissonant track (labelled simply as “Intro”, I don’t actually know if it is from a film score or the composer made it just for this) but then goes first into the lovely theme from Per le Antiche Scale and then – best of all – an astonishing reimagining of the theme from L’eredità Ferramonti.

The next suite is labelled “Quattro Adagi” – those like me who were fortunate enough to see Morricone in concert many times will perhaps recall that in later years he used to perform a suite called “Tre Adagi” – as Serino explains in the liner notes, he had always intended it to be quattro, but never quite got round to completing the arrangement of the famous Chi Mai, originally written for Maddalena but perhaps most famously used in Le Professionnel. For this album, Serino has done the arrangement himself, and it opens the suite – somehow he has managed to retain the distinctly modern, uniquely Morricone flair of the original piece and turn it into the most elegant arrangement, without the pop elements. After this we come to a delightful arrangement (by Morricone) of Once Upon a Time in America’s beautiful Deborah’s Theme, one of the composer’s most renowned. This is one of various – really quite different – arrangements of the piece he would perform in concert, the violin here not so much taking on the original soprano part but adding to it, weaving playfully around the string orchestra. It’s an indelible piece of music, one of the composer’s most highly-regarded for a reason, given new life here. Following this comes what I would consider a genuine rarity – indeed, it comes from what (despite my best efforts at drawing it to people’s attention) is probably the best Morricone score that nobody seems to know about, I promessi sposi. Here we have the beautiful “Addio monti”, the beautiful solemnity of the original given a delightfully sunny new feeling with the violin part. The suite concludes with what is billed as “Vatel’s Theme” from the Roland Joffé film – and indeed we start out with that remarkable, kaleidoscopic piece but Morricone extends it considerably into an even more dream-like piece. Hearing the “tre” in concert was unforgettable; the “quattro” here all the more so.

Something quite different comes next, with a pair of new arrangements by Serino of pieces from two wonderful Morricone scores. First is a delightful take on the theme from The Sicilian Clan – a famously complex theme with three different melodies playing together or separately, that sounds effortlessly simple in its final form – here the violin takes on all three of them at different times, in different ways. It’s lighter fayre in a way, an interlude in the middle of the album almost, which continues into Revolver’s quite delightful scherzo “Quasi un Vivaldi”, which does precisely what its title tells you.

The Taviani Brothers’ 1974 film Allonsanfan produced one of the composer’s greatest pieces – “Rabbia e tarantella” – given a new lease of life by Quentin Tarantino a few decades later – but the score is represented here instead by the dazzling, hypnotically beautiful “Ritorno a casa” – I think I may like this arrangement (by Morricone) even more than the original soundtrack version, which is saying something. But if that’s good… the other score from the composer’s collaboration with the directors is just mind-blowing. I have written about Il Prato before – it is an essential album – here, the main theme’s delicate flute solo is transcribed instead for the violin and it’s mesmerising, the emotional impact of what I think is probably the composer’s most beautiful theme not losing an ounce of its power no matter how many times I listen to it.

I mentioned earlier that Morricone had written some fine music which was arranged for violin and string orchestra in the first place, and next we come to two such pieces – heard in their original soundtrack form – both from films directed by Silvano Agosti. “Dedicato a Maria” (the Maria in question being the composer’s beloved wife) was written for La Ragion Pura – and you just know that if a composer such as Morricone is going to dedicate a piece of music to his lifetime companion then it is going to be a beauty, and so it is. We also get treated to what is undoubtedly a genuine rarity, a piece so grand in its beauty and yet so little-known, “Romanza Quartiere” from the director’s 1987 film Quartiere – sweepingly romantic yet graceful and bewitchingly charming, it is a real treat.

Finally, as the album nears its conclusion, we come for the first time to a western, and a piece of music that nobody would ever consider a rarity – a new arrangement of Once Upon a Time in the West’s Man with a Harmonica, only this time the man (fairly obviously) has a violin instead. It’s great fun, Serino’s solo dancing around the rest of the orchestra. We end with the sombre, respectful and ultimately – what else? – completely beautiful theme from Lolita.

I think that Yo-Yo Ma album is probably my favourite album of film music; I know there were those great Bernard Herrmann recordings for Phase Four, the legendary ones Miklós Rózsa did of his best music, all the John Williams / Boston Pops albums – everyone will have their own favourite. In the (almost) two decades since the Ma album, I don’t think there’s been a finer film music album than this one. I thought Cinema Suites was good; but this follow-up isn’t just good, isn’t just great, it is a towering achievement, it is exceptional. Ennio Morricone was a genius – there has never been another like he, almost certainly never will be – and hearing such sumptuous, luxurious takes on some of his most beautiful melodies brings a shiver to my spine. Congratulations to Marco Serino for producing something truly special. His love for the music shines through in every note; it sends this Morricone fan to heaven, and I’m sure I will not be alone in that.

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  1. Kalman (Reply) on Saturday 14 October, 2023 at 19:10

    Great review, James! I even got a bit emotional during the last paragraph… The CD is on order, I’m looking forward to listening to it.

  2. dominique (Reply) on Sunday 15 October, 2023 at 12:16

    what a great review, james and I was hoping you’d get to hear this amazing recording too! for me this album is the album of the year, so intense, so beautiful, so incredibly moving. morricone was unique, for me one of the greatest composers in history and I do hope that this album will be a great success, it so much deserves it!

  3. Cyril Grueter (Reply) on Sunday 25 February, 2024 at 08:21

    These are wonderful arrangements! Interesting how he weaved the main theme of the first movement of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto into Deborah’s Theme and Vatel’s Theme