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SK 90453

Artwork copyright (c) 2004 Sony BMG Music Entertainment; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall

The temptation to make a quip about "Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone" was difficult to resist, but I shall say only this: I wonder who won



Stunning compilation: the way these things should be done


Film music compilations are ten-a-penny these days, with most anyone going off to Eastern Europe to record essential new versions of the themes from Lord of the Rings and Gladiator for the mass market.  Of course, these are of little or no use to the devoted film music lover and, while they probably suit the casual fan just fine (and no doubt sell in vastly higher numbers than most actual original score albums) they have the unfortunate effect of painting a fairly gloomy picture of film music to the more, shall we say "musically mature" listener.  Sometimes, though, the best composers revisit some of their previous music and bring us new versions which are presented in a new and interesting format.  This happens unfortunately rarely, but in recent years the composer doing it most impressively has been Ennio Morricone.  He's certainly got enough back catalogue to choose from (and is the one film composer above all others for whom "sampler albums" would be very useful indeed) and over the last couple of years the three albums three simply stunning Morricone compilation albums have been released, stunning not only because the music is so good (that is a given) but because he has arranged it in such a striking manner.  "Cinema Concerto" was a good sampler of some of the composer's most familiar themes in his reorchestrated concert arrangements; "Music for Film" was a sublime collection of his themes rearranged for piano, viola, violin and flute; and "Arena Concerto" a good followup to "Cinema Concerto".

Now a fourth essential Morricone compilation has been released.  "Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone" does what its title implies, but the composer has given us a real treat by offering sometimes significantly-altered versions of his music arranged especially for Ma and his cello, all the while retaining the spirit that made the pieces so impressive in the first place.  The idea for the album was borne when the legendary cellist met the equally legendary composer at the Oscar ceremony a couple of years ago.

Morricone has compiled six suites of music, mostly played continuously.  The album begins with a fairly short suite from The Mission and it is clear from the outset that this is something special, with Morricone employing the cello not only as the lead instrument but frequently to provide countermelody in other sections ("Gabriel's Oboe" first sees an exquisite cello performance, later developing into the familiar oboe performance with Ma weaving his way around in intriguing and rewarding fashion).  This sets the tone for the rest of the album, with Ma's performances raising even the most beautiful of Morricone's themes to new heights.  Particular mention must be given to the suite from Sergio Leone movies - "Deborah's Theme" from Once Upon a Time in America is quite wonderful, with the cello providing as lilting a performance of the theme as the soprano did in its original incarnation, and the same could be said of the main theme from Once Upon a Time in the West, which is as heartbreaking a theme as it always has been.  One of the album's most striking cues is "Ecstasy of Gold" from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, arguably the composer's most extraordinary piece of music - but of all the pieces here, it was the one which most made many fans scratch their heads when the album's tracklist was originally announced - it is such an idiosyncratic piece it was difficult to imagine how it could possibly work in this setting, but work it does, beginning with the piece's main melody being heard in a truly mournful, slow arrangement for cello and orchestra before developing into an amazing cacophony of sound which is simply awe-inspiring.

After The Mission and a suite each for directors Giuseppe Tornatore, Sergio Leone and Brian de Palma come two suites of music which may be less familiar to some, but which show off the composer's ability to produce magnificently beautiful themes as well as anything.  The first features music from Moses and Marco Polo, the latter of which is one of Morricone's very finest themes, and the second has two pieces from La Califfa which are lusher and fuller, and just as rewarding.  Finally (and strangely), exclusively to those who buy the CD from Borders in America come two bonus tracks, featuring beautiful versions of the themes from The Legend of 1900 and The Mission for piano and cello only.  These should undoubtedly have been featured on every version of the CD.

With the shockingly low quality of most of 2004's new film music, it is reassuring to be reminded just what the genre can produce in the hands of a truly gifted composer, and this release is undoubtedly the outstanding album of the year so far.  Composer and performer are both at the top of their games and this one can't be missed.

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  1. The Mission: Gabriel's Oboe (3:11)
  2. The Mission: The Falls (2:27)
  3. The Legend of 1900: Playing Love (1:49)
  4. Cinema Paradiso: Nostalgia (1:58)
  5. Cinema Paradiso: Looking for You (1:43)
  6. Malena: Main Theme (4:21)
  7. A Pure Formality: Ricordare (3:49)
  8. Once Upon a Time in America: Deborah's Theme (3:32)
  9. Once Upon a Time in America: Cockeye's Song (2:13)
  10. Once Upon a Time in America: Main Theme (1:49)
  11. Once Upon a Time in the West: Main Theme (3:21)
  12. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Ecstasy of Gold (3:57)
  13. Casualties of War: Main Theme (3:54)
  14. The Untouchables: Death Theme (3:10)
  15. Moses: Journey (2:34)
  16. Moses: Main Theme (2:07)
  17. Marco Polo: Main Theme (3:21)
  18. La Califfa: Dinner (3:51)
  19. La Califfa: Nocturne (2:33)
  20. The Legend of 1900: Playing Love (cello and piano) (1:50)
  21. The Mission: Gabriel's Oboe (cello and piano) (4:27)