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FRT 405

Artwork copyright (c) 2004 Rai Trade Edizioni Musicali; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall



Rich, colourful classic with all-time-great theme


One of his most acclaimed scores, Ennio Morricone's Marco Polo has long been one of the most demanded of his unreleased output by his fans.  It was an Italian tv miniseries aired in 1982, starring Ken Marshall (he of Krull fame) as the legendary explorer, and co-starring various heavyweights like Denholm Elliot, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud and even Burt Lancaster!  One of the facets of Morricone's vast output is that regardless of whether he is working on a big Hollywood film or a low-budget Italian tv movie he always seems to devote the same effort to producing the perfect score, despite presumably receiving vastly differing levels of compensation for his different types of assignment, and indeed some of his finest works have been for television (it's difficult not to think of Nostromo). 

Marco Polo must surely count as one of his finest works.  This gargantuan double CD set from Italy marks its debut on CD, greatly expanding upon the original vinyl album; it appears on the Rai Trade label, and Morricone fans will not be surprised to see the name of Claudio Fuiano on the album credits; he's been responsible for a great number of the expanded Morricone albums which have appeared in recent years.  I'm pleased to report that this time out, sound quality is generally good (though as other, more "audiophilic" listeners than myself have suggested, the sound on the previously-unreleased selections is noticeably weaker; I'm too stupid to be all that bothered though, I'm afraid).

There are two major themes here, and given that the album lasts well over two hours you won't find it hard to identify them!  There's the "Journey" theme, a rather subtle piece, but one with a kind of organic quality.  It's not one you'll be humming in the street, but it is attractive and of high quality, heard in its most fully-developed form in "Versio L'Oriente", which also includes its secondary aspect, a more dynamic version with a slightly ominous-sounding percussive driving force behind it; and in most beautiful form in the finale, "Primo Amore", when it is performed for the first (and of course last!) time by wordless female vocal.  The theme you will be humming in the street is the main "Marco Polo" theme, which is quite sublimely beautiful even by Morricone standards.  Based around one of the composer's heartbreaking viola solos, it is no exaggeration to call it one of Morricone's greatest creations.

In terms of the non-thematic material, of note is "Al Santo Sepolcro", which begins with some of the trademark Morricone suspense music which has many of even his most devout fans running for the hills, but unexpectedly develops into a liturgical, chant-like piece for solo choir.  Elsewhere, there are a few pieces suggestion the exotic locations visited on-screen, such as the beautifully mysterious "Risveglio nel Tempo Tiretano", which also features some of the score's only real action music, a driving section which is clearly based around indigenous music of the far east, not a million miles away from the loudest sections of a score like John Williams's Seven Years in Tibet.  The opening track of the second disc, "Musica di Corte", is a lovely bit of ethnic source music which is entirely in keeping with the overall mood of the score.  There's more source music shortly afterwards in the lengthy "Festeggiamenti a Palazzo", another fine track.  "Una Nouva Civilta" is another of the more interesting tracks, starting out as a beautiful lament before becoming gradually more urgent and colourful.  What may be considered the score's "third theme", and the most overtly oriental one, is heard in "Canzone di Mai-Li", and you won't be surprised to read me describe it as being yet another truly beautiful piece. 

At two and a quarter hours, this is not an album that will be listened to start-to-finish on an especially regular basis.  While there is enough melodic material, the tone and textures used do not change a great deal, aside from one or two set-pieces.  Fortunately the discs are structured so that it's perfectly possible to enjoy one of them on its own terms, and return to the other one at a later date.  Predictably, the album has only been released in Italy and so can be quite hard to come by, but if you're interested (and if you're a Morricone fan, you ought to be) then I suggest trying one of the usual film music specialists.  And, as I know the proprietor of one of those outlets would say - this one gets a bullseye!  One of Morricone's finest themes, and one of his most beautiful and rewarding scores.

Disc One

  1. Marco Polo (3:20)
  2. Saluto Alla Madre (6:03)
  3. Nostalgia del Padre (1:14)
  4. Adolescenza (3:51)
  5. I Sogni (versione estesa) (2:43)
  6. Il Lungo Viuaggio Inizia (4:06)
  7. I Cociati (4:14)
  8. Morte nel Vento (1:46)
  9. Al Santo Sepolcro (versione estesa) (8:04)
  10. Marco Chiede la Sepolitura di Guido (1:25)
  11. Verso L'Oriente (5:38)
  12. Ormuz (:55)
  13. I Mongoli (1:11)
  14. Marco Polo e I Mongoli (5:19)
  15. Dialogo (1:02)
  16. Verso L'Oriente (ripresa) (3:53)
  17. Risveglio nel Tempo Tiretano (5:24)
  18. Un Nuovo Mondo (4:06)

Disc Two

  1. Musica di Corte (arpe) (2:11)
  2. Nel Palazzo Imperiale (1:10)
  3. Festeggiamenti a Palazzo (6:54)
  4. Una Nuova Civilta (4:54)
  5. Canzone di Mai-Li (2:33)
  6. Nuove Sensazioni (5:13)
  7. Canzone di Mai-Li (ripresa) (7:11)
  8. Musica di Corte (ripresa) (6:39)
  9. Ricordo della Madre (6:00)
  10. Il Sud Brucia (2:57)
  11. La Citta Proibita (1:43)
  12. Nostalgia di Venezia (4:06)
  13. Verso la Grande Muraglia (1:45)
  14. La Leggenda della Grande Muraglia (2:02)
  15. Kublai Khan (3:05)
  16. La Grande Marcia di Kublai (3:02)
  17. Ritorno verso Casa (3:35)
  18. Primo Amore (3:51)