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The Best Offer
  • Composed by Ennio Morricone
  • WMI Italy / 2013 / 54:17

The Best Offer – aka La Migliore Offerta – is a rare venture into English-language filmmaking by Giuseppe Tornatore, whose Cinema Paradiso is considered a classic around the world but whose films since then have met with more limited success.  Geoffrey Rush plays an art auctioneer drawn to a woman (Syliva Hoeks) looking to sell her collection, with supporting turns from Jim Sturgess and Donald Sutherland.  Director Tornatore has built up quite a collaboration with composer Ennio Morricone – the composer evidently loves working with the director and has produced some of his most striking work of the last 25 years for the director.

The album begins with “La Migliore Offerta”, Morricone’s latest variation on the “Deborah’s Theme” formula from Once Upon a Time in America – it’s a new melody, but you know where the building blocks came from.  It’s very pretty but far more striking is the second piece, the extraordinary “Volti e fantasmi”, with fairly downbeat orchestra and electric bass accompanying some remarkable vocal work by, amongst others, Edda dell’Orso, a Morricone stalwart since he first worked with her in 1964 and now in her late seventies.  A quintet of female voices move playfully around each other to produce a kind of captivating, hypnotic effect on the listener which lasts long in the memory – it’s a wonderful eight-minute piece which shows Morricone can still be truly creative even now he’s well into his eighties.

Giuseppe Tornatore and Ennio Morricone

Giuseppe Tornatore and Ennio Morricone

“Un violino” showcases – guess what – a violin – in fact a pair of them, playing a lovely duet inspired by gypsy music, another dazzling piece.  The tone darkens considerably in “Nevrosi fobica”, a tense and unsettling piece which explores the lower reaches of the orchestra and sees Morricone add a vague hint of a baroque nature through the use of the harpsichord.  In fact this darker style is more typical of the score as a whole than the dazzling opening trio of tracks, but it remains compelling music throughout.  The brief “Sguardi furtivi” showcases something I think is new for Morricone, though I stand to be corrected – a glass harmonica, adding another feather to his suspense bow (it’s very effective at creating an otherworldly, mysterious sound).

“Cavea” is a fine piece, strings slowly becoming more romantic, almost like an icy exterior is gradually melting.  ”Cercala e non trovaria” is less interesting, more typical brooding suspense material that is effective enough, but of a style which has been heard on a number of previous occasions (and indeed the way he uses strings in the piece offers just a hint – an entirely unintentional one, I’m sure – of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho).  ”Alta villa” is a return of far more striking music, this time the glass harmonica carrying a melody over a series of orchestral crashes before an exquisite cello solo closes the piece.  In “Perduta”, the swirling strings return, a violin solo darting in and out on top.

“Un cancello” is an explosive piece, the string section being sent through the wringer to provide some chilling moments before another violin duet plays on top of the darkness.  In “Il vuote dentro”, there is considerable suggestion of danger, again the glass harmonica playing a leading role, doubling up the violins.  ”Le vuote stanze” is another of those hypnotic pieces, repeated phrases heard from the cellos over a pedal note from the basses, the distinguishing point being the striking violin solo which carries the second half of the piece.  ”A quattro voci” reminds me of some of the striking vocal work from Vatel and is amongst the album’s highlights.  The hint of Herrmann returns in “Inspiegabile”, but “Pareti bianche” is pure Morricone, the slight edge to the string harmonies an unmistakable trademark of the composer.

“Ritratti d’autore” is a colourful piece for string quartet, highly expressive and beautiful.  ”Semza voce” is in some ways the album’s most exquisite piece, the string quartet remaining in place providing an eloquent reading of wonderful music.  Following is a beautiful, pared-down version of  ”La migliore offerta”, then the album concludes with a reprise of “Volte e fantasmi”, a slightly briefer version of the theme, this time the glass harmonica playing a significant role alongside the beautiful voices.  The Best Offer is a very strong album – Morricone spent a considerable amount of time working on the score, and it shows.  It’s impressive that in his twilight years the composer has produced such a striking work and he is not resting on his laurels and just writing the “easier” romantic music – this is a continually arresting score, one which casts quite a spell on the listener.  It simply brims with class, the 84-year-old Morricone writing music of considerable quality.  So far the album has only been released as a download, and only in Italy, but presumably an international release will follow when the film is released in more territories.  It’s a must-have.

Rating: **** 1/2

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  1. dominique on Sunday 20 January, 2013 at 13:38

    very nice review, james and thank you very much. as i´m listening to this new score by morricone i have totally to agree, because it is such a very, very strong album!

  2. Maarten on Sunday 20 January, 2013 at 13:56

    Gosh, that main title music (I guess) is A LOT like Deborah’s Theme! It’s like an alternate take on it. But it is still beautiful. “Volti e fantasmi” sounds terrific! I hope there will be a CD of this score, these two tracks sound very promising!

  3. Mathias on Sunday 20 January, 2013 at 14:22

    Thank you James! A great review! I certainly hope for a cd release.

  4. elfenthalsmith on Sunday 20 January, 2013 at 16:34

    It seems very puzzling to me that new scores by such a master are’nt considered greater events. It’s not just the release situation that you mentionned, it’s also the fact that while almost everybody celebrates any new John Williams score (and rightly so), scores by another legendary maestro like Morricone seem almost to fly under the radar. Sure they’re for less exposed films, but still…

  5. James Southall on Sunday 20 January, 2013 at 17:10

    It’s something I find completely baffling. There is more discussion today at FSM about a new piece of music by Christopher Franke – Christopher Franke! – than there has been in the thread about this score and the thread I posted about his other new scores, Ultimo – l’Occhio del Falco attracted a grand total of zero replies. Ah well, I try to do my best to draw people’s attention to what they’re missing but few people seem interested. John Williams could fart into a microphone and he’d get an Oscar nomination for it but this remarkably consistent, brilliant music written by Morricone for the last 10-15 years seems to be appreciated by very few of us.

  6. Craig Richard Lysy on Sunday 20 January, 2013 at 17:36

    Wow, I will explore this today. Thanks for another insightful review.

  7. Paul Cote on Sunday 20 January, 2013 at 18:06

    I think it’s just because Morricone has scored SO many movies that it gets easy to take him for granted. Where John Williams only tends to compose new scores once every couple of years, Morricone never seems to stop. He’s still writing excellent music, but news of a new Morricone score tends to prompt the reaction, “Neat! Now there are three hundred and forty TWO Morricone scores that I still haven’t heard yet!”

  8. James Southall on Sunday 20 January, 2013 at 18:10

    You’re probably right!

  9. mastadge on Sunday 20 January, 2013 at 20:15

    “I think it’s just because Morricone has scored SO many movies that it gets easy to take him for granted.”

    I think a large part of it is that people are just more willing to discuss big, mainstream projects. Over and over on the film score message boards you hear people complaining about the music from big blockbusters and mainstream films with tons of marketing behind them, but it’s like pulling teeth or herding cats to try to get anyone to try, let alone discuss, a score for an indie or foreign movie that hasn’t gotten big hollywood hype or by someone other than a big name composer. And let’s face it, as brilliant and prolific as Morricone may be, with rare exceptions he’s not exactly a Hollywood composer and has rarely been attached to any movies with serious Anglophile name recognition in the past couple decades at least.

    And I suspect you’re also right in Morricone’s case specifically — he’s simply so prolific, having scored so many movies that even your average film score fan has barely even heard of — that it’s incredibly daunting just to be conversant about his existing oeuvre let alone trying to keep up with his new works!

  10. Kalman on Monday 21 January, 2013 at 08:38

    For me, a new Morricone score is always an event. But I don’t like download only releases. I was so hoping I would be able to buy the new CDs by the Maestro and it’s a bit of a surprise that even with a name like Morricone you can’t get a CD release but only donload. Well, it’s better than nothing, but still…

    Anyway, thank you James for the Morricone reviews! I enjoy reading them. And there are so many wonderful, little-known soundtracks by him; it’s great that somebody draws attention to them.

  11. dominique on Wednesday 23 January, 2013 at 16:54

    the more i´m listening to this new composition by morricone, I have to realize what a great, unique piece of art he has created here. thanks maestro!

  12. dominique on Wednesday 23 January, 2013 at 23:11

    now i got it. it´s in many ways a very intellectual, spiritual piece of art. it´s just breathtaking.

  13. Mathias on Friday 25 January, 2013 at 17:07

    A cd release is on its way.

    http://www.intermezzomedia.com/

  14. Patrick B on Wednesday 27 February, 2013 at 14:00

    Hello sir (to James Southall),
    i would like to let you know (if you didn’t yet) the availability of a new on-line fanzine about Ennio Morricone : “Maestro”, through the site http://www.chimai.com, for free, after registering.

    Mr Southall, I invite you to contact me in personnal message (bouster.patrick@orange.fr), I have a question for you.
    thank you.
    Patrick