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Gripping thriller music from the Maestro sometimes recalls his 1970s style, compels throughout
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Medusa Film; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
Ennio Morricone has scored mutliple films for a number of directors, but his most important directorial collaborator since Sergio Leone is surely Giuseppe Tornatore. Their partnership began with the indelible Cinema Paradiso, sublime filmmaking and sublime scoring, and if their subsequent projects didn't quite reach those heights, it certainly seems as though Tornatore inspires Morricone in a way few others do, frequently producing some bold new music from the veteran composer.
Tornatore's first film since 2000's underrated Malena is La Sconosciuta, a tense thriller about a violent past catching up with a young serving girl; it's garnered easily the director's most positive reviews since Paradiso. It's the eighth collaboration between Tornatore and Morricone and once again the composer has been inspired to go the extra mile. He has been producing wonderful music on a consistent basis even in the later part of his career, but it's obvious when he feels an extra-special connection with a movie (such as with last year's Fateless or 2003's La Luz Prodigiosa) because that extra something finds its way through to the music.
La Sconosciuta opens with a deceptively-attractive theme, a truly rapturous piece highlighting violin solos which spotlights yet another knockout Morricone melody to add to the impossibly-large collection. This is a very intelligent score which goes on a real journey - after that sumptuous theme, the next few cues remain melodic, but the composer gradually introduces just hints of dissonance and slight disharmony here and there to represent a growing unease. "Giochi Infantili" is a stunner, with a childlike piano line always slightly jarring against the thematic underbelly, creating a brilliant juxtaposition of moods which offers the composer at his best. "Con Scioltezza" follows, and there's no juxtaposition any more - just pure, unadulterated tension with violent string runs and a subtle electronic buzz underneath. For a composer who has written something like four billion hours of suspense music in his time, it's amazing that Morricone has once again found a new way of doing it - this is certainly one of the album's strongest pieces (and this is not an album notable for being bereft of strong pieces).
Morricone is always liable to spring a surprise or two, and so it arrives in "Flauto Violino e Orchestra" whose title is, you might think, somewhat suggestive of what to expect - but instead the Maestro somehow came up with a brilliant modern electronic pop instrumental, aided by Rocco Petruzzi. Into the electronics and samples are mixed some acoustic solos from clarinet and violin to create an extraordinary sound which would easily be at home in a Bourne movie. The 78-year-old composer has crafted one of the finest pieces of modern orchestral/electronic action music I've ever heard, and even I didn't think I'd hear myself saying that.
That's a one-off and things return to normal in "Primo Tempo" - well, as normal as they get, anyhow. Jabbering staccato parts for violin, viola and electric guitar once again create an unbelievably gripping, vivid atmosphere vaguely reminiscent of Ligety. Nobody but Morricone would even attempt something this daring in a film score, yet he pulls it off with such apparent ease it is scarcely believable. The suspense of "Rapido" is perhaps slightly more subtle, with pizzicato strings providing constant choppy accompaniment to an urgent melodic line ingeniously passed between the parts of the string section, but once again hugely-impressive. Morricone is approaching territory here that he hasn't explored often since his stylish suspense scores of the 1970s such as Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion or perhaps certain aspects of The Thing. Investigation particularly comes to mind when hearing "Insopportabile Ansia", a tense but very sexy track.
"Ambiguita" offers a very brief respite from the tension with a reprise of the gorgeous main theme, but the suspense quickly returns, with the choppy "Le Scale Della Casa" yet another highlight. The score's centrepiece is yet to come, though - the breathtaking nine-minute tour de force "Esercizio di Stile". It's similar to other suspense tracks in the score, but Morricone takes the time here to really develop his ideas and combine the ever-increasing tension with the subtlest of interpolations of fragments of his main theme. I love it when the composer runs with an idea like this and creates an extended piece which serves as the great narrative core of the entire work, the pivotal moment when everything comes together. It's vintage Morricone. Naturally, the score receives a proper resolution and we are treated to a hint of a soaring melody threatening to rise in "Andare e Non Tornare" before the finale, "Archi Bianchi", a piece which draws the score to a close in reflective, contemplative style.
This is yet another stunning score from Morricone, and most satisfyingly shows that he is still willing to experiment, still willing to push the boundaries and still willing to write extremely challenging, but highly-cerebral, music for films that few of his peers would ever attempt. This will not be a score for everyone, nor even for all Morricone fans - while the main theme is gorgeous, it is used sparingly, and the bulk of the album's 71-minute running time is taken up by tense, unsettling music. But I think this represents Morricone at his best - daring, pioneering, and entirely unique. La Sconosciuta is a spellbinding, mesmerising, enthralling score. Breathtaking.