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Artwork copyright (c) 2003 Euphonia / CGD East West; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Fantastic Morricone compilation


In 1997, a project was begun by Euphonia to promote the music of Ennio Morricone around the world through a series of concerts and album releases.  The dual release, Arena Concerto, of a DVD and CD in late 2003 - coinciding with the composer's 75th birthday - is the latest addition.  The DVD is a concert Morricone conducted, of his own music, in Verona, along with an interview; this CD is taken from various different concerts (in addition to the Verona one, concerts in Naples, Rome and Seville).  You need to do a lot of research with Morricone, more than any other film composer, before buying an album, simply because (unless you are wealthy) it is impossible to keep up with all the releases.  Therefore, compilations of his music are quite useful, but there again there are so very many of them (many of them self-conducted) that it can be difficult to know which ones to get.  Well, this is a good place to start.  It covers fairly similar ground to the release a couple of years ago of Cinema Concerto on Sony Classical, but there is enough different material to make recommending those two releases in tandem as a wonderful introduction to Morricone's music to new fans on the one hand, and refreshing arrangements of familiar material to existing devotees on the other.

This album concentrates on presenting mostly longer suites from scores, a mixture of the most well-known and some that are far less known.  Once Upon a Time in America, which opens, is a classic, easily among Morricone's best scores - "Deborah's Theme" (which opens the suite) is particularly, heartbreakingly beautiful, even without the soprano, but there is just as much joy to be had in the other two cues here, "Poverty" and the main theme.  It's followed by a more recent gem, the breathtaking opening title music from Giuseppe Tornatore's The Legend of 1900 - an enormously loud, incredibly sweeping piece which mixes Morricone at his most romantic with a touch of early 20th century jazz.

Of course, even those with just a hint of Morricone knowledge are probably familiar with The Mission, but it's always worth hearing.  Curiously, the suite here stops short of the magnificent, awe-inspiring suite which Morricone plays in concerts - "Penance", "The Mission" and "Gabriel's Oboe" are included, but "On Earth as it is in Heaven" is omitted - a great pity, and very odd.  (Frustratingly, the suite on the Cinema Concerto album is also only half-included, but this time it's the other half!)  Frustrations aside, one could never tire of hearing this beautiful music, one of the most perfect, poetic combinations of film and music ever put down.

Indeed, arguably the only two particular rivals to that crown come in the following two tracks, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West.  While it's possible to take or leave the former, in this arrangement (it's clearly impossible to do much of a faithful recreation of the original theme for a symphony orchestra), the latter is something interesting, with the familiar "Jill's Theme" having the soprano part replaced by a pipe organ.  It sounds odd, but it works... certainly no substitute for the sweeping majesty of the original, but it's a nice alternative.  (Another nice alternative comes on Morricone's superb Musica per Film album, on which the piece is arranged for viola, cello, flute and piano.)  The trilogy of themes for Sergio Leone westerns is completed with the excellent theme from A Fistful of Dynamite (sans the usual choral "Sean" chants, but with the gorgeous soprano part).  However superb they are, I do wonder whether they couldn't have been dropped and the space used for something that hasn't been recorded quite so many times instead, but on the other hand, of course, they are among the most iconic pieces of music ever written for cinema.

The romantic Cinema Paradiso, another perennial favourite, comes up next, with the main theme and love theme put together in a flowing, rapturous arrangement.  Curiously, Morricone only ever performs the harsh, suspenseful opening title music from The Untouchables in concert (and so it's that that gets heard here) where the soaring finale music would seem more appropriate, but it's still nice to have another performance of it here.  Even more curiously, the track selected from Novecento - far less well-known than most of the other scores on this album, but just as good as any - is not the extraordinarily beautiful main theme, but the slightly anonymous, tension-filled "Autumno 1922".  "Addio Monti" from I Promessi Sposi will probably be the least familiar track on the album to most people, but it's yet another sweeping, gorgeous romantic theme from the maestro.  This does bring up yet another curiosity though (the album seems to be full of them!) in that the CD booklet credits no fewer than five different choirs as performing on this specific piece (they are not mentioned for any other tracks, even the ones with choir), despite the fact that there is no choir heard at all - it's pure orchestra.

The album concludes with music from two stupendous scores, both of which are well-known within the Morricone fan base but virtually unknown outside of it.  The Red Tent, an obscure Italian / Russian co-production from the early 1970s starring Sean Connery, produced what has been voted Morricone's best theme - and it's not difficult to see why.  Soaring to the heavens, it is difficult not to become instantly enraptured by the intensely beautiful music.  The CD release of the full score suffers from poor sound, which makes the nine minutes presented here even more welcome, and Morricone's embellishments (particularly the extra viola solos) are excellent.  Sandwiched between performances of the love theme is the particularly intense action piece "Altri Dupo di Noi".  Finally, the album is rounded out by Canone Inverso; Morricone has fleshed out a short piece he wrote to be performed on screen in the movie into a "sort-of" concerto for violin, piano and orchestra, which is nothing short of magnificent.  It has to be heard to be believed.

Whether you are a Morricone novice or a longstanding collector, treat yourself: this album is a must-have.  The associated DVD, which will be reviewed separately, is also highly recommended.

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  1. Once Upon a Time in America (7:00)
  2. The Legend of 1900 (7:37)
  3. The Mission (9:24)
  4. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (2:53)
  5. Once Upon a Time in the West (5:09)
  6. A Fistful of Dynamite (4:17)
  7. Cinema Paradiso (4:43)
  8. The Untouchables (1:56)
  9. Novecento (3:00)
  10. I Promessi Sposi (3:15)
  11. The Red Tent (9:03)
  12. Canone Inverso (15:08)