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Sweeping score for Tornatore epic is a delight
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album cover copyright (c) 2009 Medusa Film SPA; review copyright (c) 2009 James Southall.
Giuseppe Tornatore's semi-autobiographical Baaria traces a small Sicilian town across three generations, beginning in the 1930s. The film (produced by Marina Berlusconi - daughter of Silvio) opened the Venice Film Festival to a generally favourable response, with the score being mentioned in many reviews (generally, American reviewers - who never like a score which can be heard - criticising it for being too up-front and European reviewers going bananas for it). Of course, the score was provided by Tornatore's regular collaborator Ennio Morricone, now in his ninth decade.
The album opens in a most unfortunate fashion. "Sinfonia per Baaria" is an eleven-minute tour-de-force from the composer; so what's unfortunate? The beautiful music is, over its last half, trampled over by dialogue and sound effects (including chickens!) - I'm sure it must have seemed like a great idea to someone, but it's hard to imagine why. Worst of all, some of the material is not heard elsewhere on the album.
The good news is that after that it's pure, unadulterated Morricone, with the fantastic "Ribellione" (one of those wonderful marches which this composer has done so well so many times) quickly erasing any unpleasant memories; and a lovely melodic theme being presented in the next track, "Baaria". "Il corpo e la terra" presents a more low-key (but no less beautiful) theme which seems to soar gently away. "Lo zoppo" is a mean action track, again vintage Morricone; it may be brief, but it leaves quite an impression with its blaring brass.
"Brindisi" sees the main theme return with Morricone going all-out romantic; there's nothing gentle about the way this one soars. The playful "Un guico sereno" reminds me a bit of an earlier Morricone/Tornatore score, Stanno Tutti Bene - another delightful piece. There's so much excellent material here and Morricone develops most of it further in the album's second half (including terrific military band versions of two of the themes in tracks 13 and 14). Morricone was clearly very inspired by this film (and says as much in his gushing liner notes), and the results are very impressive. Given that he has scored 400-odd films (or whatever it is) and is in his eighties, it's unfair to expect anything revolutionary - and indeed much of this music is somewhat similar to past scores by the maestro. That doesn't stop it being a very strong album.