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Album running time

1: L'alba verra Filippa Giordano and Peppe Servillo (4:26)
2: Petra (4:10)
3: Arborea (3:38)
4: Giungla verde (2:21)
5: Il re degli ingordi Enzo Facchetti (2:44)
6: Forresta incantata (3:32)
7: Frange di nuvola Helena (2:59)
8: Vortice (3:33)
9: Il canto della terra Filippa Giordano (1:53)
10: Gli allegri animati (1:35)
11: Il ghiottone (1:30)
12: Andante grazioso (1:13)
13: La Guerra (4:18)
14: Canto di Amneris (2:59)
15: Canto di Aida (2:41)
16: Il mostro (2:39)
17: Tema di Aida in Arborea (4:41)
18: Do You Believe in Me? Filippa Giordano and Mick Hucknall (4:28)

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Artwork copyright (c) 2001 Sugar SRL; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall

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Morricone gets animated

The great Ennio Morricone has, according to the IMDB, scored about 450 films in his career; other people's estimates add as many as 200 others. It is easy to infer from this extraordinary statistic that he must have scored every conceivable genre of film countless times. One genre with which he is not frequently associated, however, is animation. He scored an obscure animation in the late 1990s called Cartoni Animati, and 2002 saw him return to the genre for only the second time with his music for Guido Manuli's Aida degli Alberi.

The film is inspired by Verdi's opera; Morricone's music most assuredly is not. The title means, literally, Aida of the Trees, and the maestro's score plays as a vivid tone poem about trees. The opening track of score, "Petra", pits pan flutes against a piano ostinato (which will sound very familiar to anyone who has heard the great scores to Nostromo and U-Turn). More romantic material is introduced in "Arborea", with incredibly colourful and descriptive woodwind solos backed with the familiar string sound that could come from no other composer's pen. A further theme is then introduced in "Giungla verde" ("Green Jungle"), played by an exotic-sounding synth. The cue is also backed by especially effective water droplet-style synth effects, which probably sound awful when written down, but which really work. "Foresta incantata" sees Morricone going down the other route and extracting quite extraordinary acoustic sounds from high-register woodwinds, joined in the second part of the cue by a quite beautiful theme for oboe. "Vortice" sees the score's first foray into action territory, with an array of percussion joined by cymbal crashes, tuba and trumpet alongside a wonderfully expressive oboe line.

All of a sudden, things change and the tone shifts considerably in "Gli allegri animati", a playful piece that is the first score track that really suggests you're listening to the score from a children's film. The theme continues in "Il ghiottone", a delightful scherzo. "Andante grazioso" sounds almost like it's from a crime film for a while (you could swear there's a slight nod to Nino Rota in there). Things take a more dramatic turn in "La guerra" (as you may expect from the title!) with dissonant strings dueting with very low brass. One of the maestro's unforgettable viola themes comes in "Canto di Amneris", a piece of truly heartbreaking beauty. The theme is reprised on flute in "Canto di Aida". "Il mostro" brings back the gritty action style from earlier in the score, unexpectedly introducing a distant adult choir into proceedings very late in the game. Finally, the main theme is reprised for full orchestra, in glorious fashion, in "Tema di Aida in Arborea"; talk about saving the best for last, it's a stunning finish to the score selections.

But there are two sides to this album: as well as the outstanding score, we are treated (if that's the right word) to various songs, penned by Morricone. The main one, "L'alba verrą", both opens and closes the album - sung first in Italian by Filippa Giordano and Peppe Servillo, and later in English by Giordano and Mick Hucknall. It's a lovely song. The other three songs vary somewhat - "Il re degli ingordi" (how's that for a title, pop pickers) is an embarrassing attempt at a Disneyish kids' song that falls flat on its face; "Frange di nuvola" is a beautiful love song; and "Il canto della terra" is a lovely lullaby (perhaps marred by the upfront recording of Giordano's vocal).

Morricone really is an extraordinary composer, but some of his albums do tend to suffer from a little too much repetition. Aida degli Alberi couldn't be further from this: it features writing of truly breathtaking expressiveness, and every track is a self-contained gem with new ideas being rolled out through each piece right to the end of the album. If you can find it, you can't go far wrong.