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Artwork copyright (c) 2005 EMI; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall
Peerless Morricone dazzles with exceptional, uplifting score
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Ennio Morricone has always been the most creative of the composers who are best known for their work in film, sounding like no other and just inventing whole new styles of music along the way, with his Sergio Leone collaborations becoming ingrained into the popular psyche. The fact that he has worked predominantly in Italy where he has been revered for virtually four decades has meant he has largely been free from the constraints of working on big budget studio pictures, allowing him to stretch the creative boundaries far further than he would have been able to do in Hollywood. At the age of 76, one might imagine that he has said everything he could have said and would be content to settle back and write occasionally for projects which interest him; that he has written six scores already in 2005, and it is barely half way through, disproves that notion instantly, and the fact that they contain some of the finest film music written by anyone shows that he is hardly sitting back, going through the motions. Indeed, Il cuore nel pozzo and Karol are two of the very finest scores of the year so far. The finest is Fateless, written for the directorial debut of famed Hungarian cinematographer Lajos Koltai.
It is based on Imre Kersetz's 1975 novel Sorstalansag, about the experiences of a 14-year-old Hungarian Jews during in a concentration camp during the Holocaust, which won the Nobel Prize for literature. Morricone is no stranger to such harrowing films, but here has focused largely on playing against the horror with uplifting music full of hope and the very essence of humanity, rather than concentrating on the brutality and terror of the camp. Anyone with any passing interest in Morricone's career will be familiar with the wonderful contribution made to some of his finest scores by vocalist Edda dell'Orso. It's been several years since she last worked with the composer, and he has rather shied away from writing wordless vocal music since, for soloists at least; but Fateless changes that, with an impressive and classy contribution coming from the ubiquitous Lisa Gerrard. Of course, she has become closely linked with Hans Zimmer and his crop of underlings ever since Gladiator, and has even ushered in various soundalikes trying to emulate her sound, and it has become one of the most overused and irritating facets of film music - because of that, it may be with some trepidation that you considered the prospect of her working on this score, particularly since it would inevitably lead to comparisons between her and dell'Orso.
Fortunately, Morricone makes no attempt to get her to sound like dell'Orso, and his melody is vastly different from anything Zimmer has written for her (or, indeed, she has written for herself). Her voice, which has always sounded expressive and rather unique, now takes on a more classical, virtually operatic sound, with her "singing" being wordless, but only just, with her varied intonations almost giving the impression of her singing some sort of made-up language. First heard in "Return to Life" and later developed in "A Song" and other cues, it is an extraordinarily beautiful piece of music.
That such an impressive and, frankly, knockout piece of music shares the album with several others of equal quality is remarkable. The score's main theme, which both opens and closes the album, is vaguely reminiscent of the composer's magnificent rejected score for What Dreams May Come. The aforementioned "Return to Life" is simply exquisite, opening with a sumptuous theme for solo oboe with string accompaniment, before it is taken up by choir and swelling violins, then Gerrard's vocals before ending with a subdued pan flute solo representing the darker aspects of the story. It is yet another of those pieces Morricone writes every year or two which simply stuns the listener into disbelief, here because of the heartbreaking beauty. "The Field" introduces the next main theme, an elegantly powerful, stirring piece with slight echoes of Casualties of War, and a particularly emotional and poignant reflection of the harrowing nature of the film. The theme is developed, in an entirely different orchestral setting, in "Home Again", where Morricone gives it a distinctly optimistic, hopeful air, this time introducing the melody using xylophone and piano.
The pan flute takes on a more prominent role in "The Beginning of the Tragedy", a track which is very aptly named. While the instrument has received a lot of bad press over the years, Morricone uses it here to add a very human sound to images of what are repulsive activities, and it works brilliantly. As happens frequently with this album, the contrast between that cue and the one that follows, "A Song" reprising the Lisa Gerrard material, is breathtakingly effective. "Psyhological Destruction" neatly plays the two sides of the coin off against each other, with suspense and tragedy offered by the snare drums and slightly awkward string orchestration being counterbalanced by the almost soaring qualities of the main theme.
"About Solitude" once again presents the "Return to Life" theme, this time in (if anything) an even more uplifting, exquisite arrangement, backed by a simple yet effective part for solo organ which is one of those things you don't tend to hear anyone other than Morricone writing. "To Return and to Remember" introduces a new theme, played by solo dulcimer, which is particularly evocative of the Hungarian setting, with its folksy atmosphere. "A Voice from the Inside" combines the organ solo with Gerrard's vocals and, once again, the effect is mesmerising. After this come reprises of the main themes, which make a brilliant end to what is a superb album. Morricone has written such heartbreaking melodies, branched out in a slightly different direction yet again, and delivered what is firmly the best score of 2005 so far. It is not, perhaps, as instantly satisfying as some of Morricone's scores, but repeated listens continue to reveal new facets to the music, more colours, more depth to the beauty. This is uplifting, soaring, incredibly beautiful music and I couldn't recommend it more highly.