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Cinema per archi
Nino ROTA (1911-1979)
Concert per archi [16:12]
La Strada [4:10]
Romeo & Juliet [3:37]
Amarcord [3:20]
Ennio MORRICONE (b. 1928)
Gabriel’s oboe [2:28]
Musica per 11 violini [5:39]
Arcate di archi. Meditazione in Re maggiore [4:48]
MosŤ [4:54]
Nicola PIOVANI (b. 1946)
Il canto dei neutrini [22:42]
Buongiorno Principessa [3:23]
La vita Ť bella [1:23]
Paolo Pollastri (oboe)
Archi di Santa Cecilia/Luigi Piovano (solo cello)
rec. 2016, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome
Booklet notes in English, French & Italian
ARCANA A440 [72:44]

The title of this CD is a little misleading, as the liner notes hasten to explain, since the selections consist not only of film score excerpts from these three Italian composers, but other works presumably intended to broaden one’s appreciation of their craft.

Such is the opening piece, Nino Rota’s Concerto for Strings. On this occasion, though, listeners may already be familiar with it through Riccardo Muti’s 1995 Sony recording and, more recently, Flavio Emilio Scogna on Brilliant. It’s a work I find typical of Rota’s compositions away from the specific demands of cinematic narrative – highly skilled, inventive, instantly ingratiating, but ultimately unremarkable. As I’ve observed elsewhere, Rota tends to play his cards too early, and so it is here: from the meltingly beautiful opening of this concerto, it progresses rather purposefully through the Prelude to the Scherzo with its evocation of dance forms – waltzes and minuets – to the contemplative Aria, and finishes allegrissimo with a lively galop. Enjoyable certainly, and persuasively played here, but all that really remains is that dreamy first impression.

Those characteristic, quirky Rota melodies do start to flow, however, come the three short suites of movie excerpts. The translation of La Strada’s circus music to strings is effectively done, and the main theme of Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet ravishingly played. While the Amarcord selections provide a sensible contrast, I rather had my teeth set for the panoramic splendour of Il gattopardo, but never mind, maybe next time.

Enter Ennio Morricone, and a significant difference. As the liner notes explain (and Morricone himself in a short interview transcript), he sees composing for the screen and the concert stage as quite separate disciplines, the latter termed his ‘absolute music’, or that which is independent from images, and expressively self-sufficient. For most listeners, this will mean that Morricone’s concert works are unrecognisable from his film scores; tonally free-wheeling and largely athematic. To an extent, Morricone has been a victim of his own success, a modern melodist almost without equal, which can inevitably lead to typecasting as not ‘serious’. That he seems to eschew melody and conventional tonality in his concert works is perhaps then understandable, but in a way a pity, as one could imagine the kind of concert music he might compose should all his talents coalesce.

On the current CD, we have four Morricone samples, a pair of each kind, so to speak. The bookends are two of his supreme melodic inspirations, firstly Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission in an arrangement for oboe and strings, and finishing with the theme from MosŤ (a TV mini-series), led by solo cello. Both receive glorious accounts from the Archi di Santa Cecilia with respective soloists Paolo Pollastri and Luigi Piovano. The first of the intervening pieces is the early (1958) Music for 11 Violins, described in the liner notes as “not only a dodecaphonic piece, but one of the first examples in Italy of serialism ...”. Composed before Morricone had started working for film, he adapted it some ten years later for the score of A Quiet Place in the Country, a hallucinated mystery film; an example perhaps of the ‘absolute’ becoming the cinematic, but something of a cold shower in the wake of Gabriel’s glow. The second piece, a premiere recording, was written by Morricone for the current ensemble and its leader, Luigi Piovano. The work has a signature key, D major, but does not use traditional harmonic functions, instead being formed by the linking and overlapping of short sound bands, marked piano and pianissimo, “like single breaths ... melting into a homogeneous texture”. A slight work, perhaps, but I found it hauntingly beautiful, and a perfect segue to the escalating grandeur of MosŤ.

Nicola Piovani is new to me, I must concede, even though he was winner of a 1998 Oscar for his score to Roberto Benigni’s film La Vita Ť bella (Life is Beautiful). Given however his strong links to Ennio Morricone in particular, I was keen to experience his art. Again, he is represented here by his cinema and concert music, the latter example, Il canto dei neutrini (The Song of the Neutrinos), being the longest work on the CD. Like Morricone, he varies the style of his compositions according to their setting, but not nearly so markedly. While his technique for the concert work may be more complex and patiently developed, it is still essentially tonal and aurally consistent with his cinematic works, as evidenced by this disc. Also a premiere recording dedicated to these performers, Il canto dei neutrini is scored for strings, harp, celesta and percussion, with solo cello. Neutrinos, for those who recall their physics, are sub-atomic electrically neutral particles whose rest mass is so small that it was long thought to be zero, and they typically pass through normal matter unimpeded and undetected. Piovani sees them more impressionistically as almost fairytale creatures impinging subliminally on one’s feelings and moods. Structured in rhapsodic form, the work begins with questioning phrases from the cello – apparently as homage to Shostakovich, a reversal of his first cello concerto’s theme – after which it launches into a set of variations on this motif to what I would term a jog-trot rhythm – all those pesky little neutrinos larking about, I dare say. Calm descends for the central section, “lunar and slightly melancholic” as described, leading to a reprise of the first part, now transfigured in a tango tempo. This is a fun piece, slightly too long perhaps, but I’m glad I made its acquaintance.

The concluding two excerpts from Piovani’s La Vita Ť bella score seem to pass in an instant – they struck me as exquisitely beautiful while listening, but also by analogy to the rest mass of a neutrino, the moment the music stops, it all but vanishes from the memory. It may be tough love to admit it, but maybe that’s why I celebrate the indelible film scores of Ennio Morricone and Nino Rota, but have never before been aware of Nicola Piovani. All in all, though, this is a wonderfully entertaining and, yes, educational disc, showcasing film and concert scores of these three composers. Splendidly played and recorded, it should have broad appeal and, despite its title, is not only for film music buffs.

Des Hutchinson



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