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Nino ROTA (1911-1979)
The Fellini Album
Amarcord Suite [13:37]
Otto e mezzo 8 1/2 Suite [16:23]
La Dolce Vita Suite arr. Ross [11:29]
Il Casanova di Federico Fellini Suite orch. Moretti [21:42]
I Clowns Suite [13:07]
Amarcord arr. Ross [4:27]
Filarmonica della Scala/Riccardo Chailly
rec. 2017, Sala Abanella, Milan, Italy
DECCA 483 2869 [80:55]

Despite his serious compositions, Nino Rota will be forever associated with his music for the cinema and in particular, his working relationship with the Italian director Federico Fellini, which began with Lo sceicco bianco (1952) and lasted over twenty-five years, the final collaboration being Prova d'orchestra for which he won an award for the best score. Their relationship was built on both friendship and work, and encompassed the 1960 masterpiece La Dolce Vita, often regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, but he is probably best remembered, especially in the English-speaking world, for the scores of the first two Godfather films of Francis Ford Coppola.

I must admit that I have very little film music by Rota, tending to go instead for his concert music, although I do have the Godfather soundtracks, and, unlike them, most of the music presented here is less dramatic, being instead decadent, fun loving and nostalgic. The first music comes from the 1973 film Amarcord (I Remember), a semi-autobiographical story of Tita, a sexually frustrated adolescent and his life in a small seaside town in Fascist Italy of the 1930’s. The score is a collection of American dancehall tunes, circus marches and popular songs, including ‘Stormy Weather’. Although this does not sound that promising, Rota’s skill of melody comes to the fore as he melds these into a score which exploits the emotions of the time.

Otto e mezzo was released in 1963 and was accorded both critical and audience acclaim, including a Best Foreign Language Film ‘Oscar’. It is in the top ten of the BFI best films of all time, despite being regarded as avant-garde and somewhat surrealist. The score, which itself won Rota an award from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists, brings my memory of the film sharply in to focus; it follows on well from Amarcord, especially in the way it uses the Sheik of Araby in the fourth movement. Rota cleverly makes the music sound easy and unfussy to mirror the apparent professional creative block of the main character, but it also has some touching moments which include some nice writing for the flute. 

The award-winning La Dolce Vita of 1960 follows the gossip columnist journalist Marcello Rubini through seven days and nights as he samples the ‘good life’ of Rome. As such, the film is usually regarded as being divided into a prologue, seven episodes and an epilogue, the famous scene with Anita Ekberg wading through the Trevi Fountain coming in the second. The suite we have here is devised from Rota’s score by William Ross, also consisting of seven movements, although not really relating to the seven scenes. Opening with a short quite dramatic theme, the music is driven and original; this is followed by a lovely nocturnal theme before introducing more popular songs and dance music, including some representing the circus. More nocturnal music is heralded with a trumpet solo before the final piece presents La Dolce Vita itself. The suite depicts the action of the film well and the soundtrack colours the ambiance of the location and the emotion of the scene.

Beginning quite subdued, the suite from Il Casanova di Federico Fellini, is based upon the title character’s autobiography and dates from1976. The music is used to accentuate the episodes of Casanova’s life, with Rota’s score matching well the grotesque atmosphere of Fellini’s concept. The six pieces offer varied and, at times, equally challenging music to highlight the humour, drama and sardonic aspects of the film, the score being an integral part of Fellini’s vision.

Fellini had a lifelong obsession with the circus and in particular clowns, something which recurs throughout his career as a director and which we see in Amarcord. His film I Clowns of 1970 was produced for the Italian TV station RAI, although it had a cinema release at the same town. Called a docufiction, it was designed by Fellini as an exploration of his and the Italian fascination with the art, although it did include sections from non-Italians including Anita Ekberg, one of the stars from La Dolce Vita ten years earlier. Often criticised for his lack of originality, Nino Rota’s score employs music traditionally associated with the circus, although the American military march towards the end came as a bit of a surprise. The real originality comes in Rota’s richly ornate and colourful orchestration of the well-known pieces, which only serves to accentuate the enjoyment of the music.

At first, I was not too sure about this disc, but at the time I was not in the mood to listen to it properly; having now returned to it after some months I am enthralled. The music is rich and colourful, and represents the human condition well, its depiction of emotions on the screen coming through in the deeply sentimental music, especially in the autobiographical works. This highlights the close relationship that grew between Rota and Fellini. The performers might seem an odd choice, with the Filarmonica della Scala and Riccardo Chailly possibly the last names you would expect, but the performance is excellent throughout, and highly detailed; both the orchestra and conductor are really at home in this music and their performance is one to savour. The recording is clear and spacious with every little nuance of the orchestration coming through, showing that you do not need the accompanying pictures in the suites. Having watched La Dolce Vita again, I find that this suite has a greater clarity, which is to be expected, but it is the orchestral colour of the music which really comes through.

Stuart Sillitoe

Thanks to Des Hutchinson who informed us that Riccardo Chailly was a pupil of Nino Rota, along with Riccardo Muti, who has also recorded albums of Rota's film and other music with the Filarmonica della Scala.

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