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Composed by
ENNIO MORRICONE

Rating
* * * * *

Album running time
50:17

Performed by
UNNAMED ORCHESTRA
conducted by
ENNIO MORRICONE

Orchestrations
ENNIO MORRICONE

Engineered by
GIULIO SPELTA
Produced by
GIANNI DELL'ORSO

Released by
GDM
Serial number
GDM 0159052

Artwork copyright (c) 2004 Edel Italia SRL; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall

 

NOVECENTO

Stunning score for Bertolucci's period epic

A review by JAMES SOUTHALL

Bernando Bertolucci's sprawling epic charting the lives of two men - played by Robert de Niro and Gerard Depardieu - born on the same day in 1900 in Italy, one into wealth and the other into poverty, has developed a keen following.  With a four-hour running time on its original release, and a director's cut which runs much longer still, it would be a test of endurance to sit through it all in one go, but the rewards are good.  Bertolucci is of course one of the big names of European cinema and has been for a very long time, having contributed to the script of Once Upon a Time in the West and then gone on to direct various renowned films, including Last Tango in Paris, The Last Emperor and, recently, The DreamersNovecento was his third collaboration with his fellow countryman Ennio Morricone (after a gap of well over a decade), who was inspired to create one of his most rewarding and impressive works.

The score opens with one of Morricone's most wonderful themes, "Romanza", a rich and beautiful piece which has a timless quality.  Orchestration is somewhat restrained and much of the theme's impact comes from the subtle chorus which more or less hums the melody; it's terribly impressive.  No less impressive is "Estate - 1908" which immediately proceeds it, though the arrangement is a little more sumptuous this time.  "Autunmo - 1922" introduces the first suspense / action music of the score.  Opening with harsh, piercing brassy suspense, the middle section develops into tension-laden action music, before the piece concludes with jagged, string-played dissonance.  "Regalo di nozze" continues the darker theme, with Morricone now employing the piano to generate excitement, very impressively.

"La polenta" sees a return to more melodic material with a stunning solo violin version of the main theme; and "Il primo sciopero" starts in a similar vein, though it isn't long before the edgy suspense music returns.  Unlike in some of his other scores, Morricone's suspense music here always remains entirely listenable, drawing a web around the listener and creating a mesmerising effect.  It would be difficult to sustain for the course of a whole album, which makes the melodic interventions so welcome.  Most of those are a series of variations on the main theme, but Morricone always brings something fresh and interesting to the piece, developing it very well over the course of his score.  "Padre e figlia" is one of the highlights, in which it is performed by solo viola; and "Il quarto stato" sees the piece being given a more sprightly arrangement and is another stunner.  "Tema di Ada" is the major melodic material which is not based around the main theme, in which the composer introduces a dreamy, light piano theme which is twinged with a lovely sense of nostalgia and is highly attractive.

For a long time Novecento was one of the rarest of Morricone albums on CD, released only in Japan, but this straight reissue (though with different packaging) from Italy is now widely available.  Unfortunately the sound quality is still very ropey (even though the album claims to have been remastered) but the music more than makes up for that.  It's one of the most sumptuous and beautiful scores of Morricone's career.

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Tracks

  1. Romanzo (4:05)
  2. Estate - 1908 (5:01)
  3. Autunmo - 1922 (4:43)
  4. Regalo di nozze (2:45)
  5. Testamento (2:25)
  6. La polenta (1:07)
  7. Il primo sciopero (2:48)
  8. Padre e figlia (1:27)
  9. Tema di Ada (4:50)
  10. Apertura della caccia (5:44)
  11. Verdi morto (2:30)
  12. I nuovi crociati (3:32)
  13. Il quarto stato (1:33)
  14. Inverno - 1935 (2:45)
  15. Primavera - 1945 (2:06)
  16. Olmo e Alfredo (2:18)