FILM MUSIC BY ENNIO MORRICONE
Regurgitated Morricone compilation from Silva
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
No film composer in history has been as prolific as Ennio Morricone. With an extraordinary number of scores under his belt (nobody really knows exactly how many, but many estimate it now exceeds five hundred) and a devoted fanbase around the world, naturally there is a big market for Morricone albums. Similarly, some of his music (specifically, the Sergio Leone westerns, and The Mission) has become iconic with the general public around the world in ways which most film music never does. Add all these things up, and there is no shortage of Morricone compilations out there.
These compilations range from the sublime to the ridiculous, from collections of original tracks to new recordings by Morricone himself, via all sorts of re-recordings, from those performed by a man on a keyboard in his bedroom through re-recordings for various small ensembles to fully symphonic efforts. Ironically, despite the plethora of compilation albums which have been put out there, far more than for all other film composers combined in all probability, Morricone is surely the most difficult of all the mainstream film composers to re-record well. I usually find the notion that some people hold that original tracks recorded for the film are automatically better than any re-recording could be, to be somewhat abhorrent, but with Morricone there is certainly a case to be made. His music is generally so eclectic that attempting to recreate original performances is always going to be very hard; this is borne out with Morricone's own re-recordings, which treat his more eclectic pieces in one of two ways: either he doesn't even bother trying (something like "The Man with the Harmonica" from Once Upon a Time in the West) or he rearranges them completely into something very new, which is what he does with (for example) the main title to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in his concerts.
This new CD from Silva Screen makes the bold move of trying to recreate with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra some of Morricone's most famous pieces. It's part of a new series from the label called "Film Music Masterworks", with the companion initial release in the series focusing on John Barry. The majority of the recordings come from Silva's library, some recorded years ago. With pieces like Cinema Paradiso or "Jill's Theme" from Once Upon a Time in the West, it's perfectly possible to come up with adequate approximations of the originals since they are, broadly, traditionally symphonic, and the entries here are nothing to be ashamed of.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the Clint Eastwood westerns' main themes, things veer off in rather unpredictable directions. Now, there is a lot of completely unfair criticism directed towards the City of Prague Philharmonic's performances; but I'm afraid it would be hard to label any criticism here as being unfair. (Honestly, listening to the mauling of The Mission is enough to make a Morricone fanatic want to jump off a cliff.) A pleasant exception is the excellent rendition of the theme from The Five Man Army, by far the least well-known piece on the album, and also the only one to have been newly-recorded for it. Other pieces which veer away from the obvious are the superb main theme from The Sicilian Clan and the outstandingly-beautiful "Regan's Theme" from The Exorcist II, the latter perhaps being the strongest performance on the album.
With minimal packaging and tracks culled from the Silva library, this is clearly a release aimed at the budget end of the market. I usually end up reviews of albums like this saying that for a novice collector of the composer in question it would be a good place to start, but I'm not sure I can honestly do that here - the selections are decent, but some of the performances would probably have people unfamiliar with the tracks scratching their heads at what all the fuss is about. As a starting-point if you want a Morricone compilation then I'd suggest any of the self-conducted ones. I suppose this release may satisfy those who have never bought a Morricone album in their life before but want to stick "Chi Mai" and The Mission on their iPods, but I can't see that it has much value to Morricone devotees.Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Silva Screen Records Ltd.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
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