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June 2006 Film Music DVD Review

Film Music Editor: Michael McLennan
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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DVD Review

Morricone Conducts Morricone 
  Music composed and conducted by Ennio Morricone
Performed by the Munich Radio Orchestra & Choir
With Susanna Rigacci (soprano), Gilda Butta (piano), Ulrich Herkenhoff (panpipes), Henry Raudales (solo violin) and Norbert Merkl (solo viola).
Directed by Directed by Giovanni Morricone
Produced by Helmut Pauli
(NTSC-16:9 anamorphic, PCM Stereo - Doldy Digital 5.1 - DTS 5.1, Region 0)
  Available on EuroArts (2054698)
Running Time: 99:23 (Tracklisting below)

As shown here, Ennio Morricone as conductor is quite unassuming - one might even say impassive: his stick technique, mild. That being said, the music from his large Munich Radio Orchestra is full blooded and romantic, doing full justice to this popular, evergreen film music. The sound quality is excellent, particularly heard in full Surround Sound with a lovely sheen to the strings, full-toned, resounding brass and firm, clear bass responses. Morricone’s scores, in this concert, stretch from those spaghetti westerns (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) (1966) to Canone Inverso (1999), the latter represented by the rhapsodic ‘Making Love’ featuring violin soloist Henry Raudales in music of dissonance, poignancy and stirring heroism.  Silver-haired Gilda Buttà, bucking a formally-attired trend by appearing bare-midriff, gives sterling support positioned well back in the orchestra to provide a percussive piano role and, occasionally, a solo spot

If there is one small gripe in this excellent release, it is this: there is little scope for identifying the films. A few clips are scattered through the programme: Cinema Paradiso, an amalgamation of the spaghetti westerns, and The Desert of the Tarters (1976). Personally, I would have welcomed a few briefly shown, small-sized stills tastefully inset into the concert-hall pictures to remind us of the familiar films and to inform us of the less well-known productions.

It is the lesser known scores that have so much appeal. Take for instance Morricone’s arresting music for the film H2S (1968); this score has a fascinating hypnotic quality about its repetitive motor rhythms, and there is an appealing childlike, bouncy jollity as well as imposing Bach-like chorale material. Likewise The Sicilian Clan (1969) grips the ear with its snare-drum ostinatos and guitar patterns below the strings’ elegiac pathos. The two Love Circle (1971) excerpts impress too. ‘Uno che grida amore’ is an especially powerful piece with persistent piano dissonances, brushed cymbals and brass drones. The Working Class Goes to Heaven (1971) has a grimy realism about it. Morricone’s noisy creation suggests factory sirens and sweated labour amongst heavy machinery and there is a hint of Bernard Herrmann in the relentless cutting rhythms and quirkiness of his score for Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1969).

Of the better known scores there is the sinister music for The Untouchables (1986), the haunting tune of The Legend of 1900 (1998), and it is interesting to see panpipes in action as played by Ulrich Herkenhoff in ‘Cockey’s Song’ from  Once Upon a Time in America. Other excerpts from this magnificent score include: the enchanting ‘Deborah’s Theme’ played with measured, mounting passion, and the clarinet melody that is ‘Poverty’ so imbued with Italian melancholy and nostalgia. Soprano, Susanna Rigacci conveys in lovely legato lines the sweet melancholy of the love theme of Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and, with the choir, sings a more siren-like song powerfully suggesting all the evil lust for gold in Morricone’s music for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).

The concert concludes with music from The Mission (1986). In addition to the celebrated oboe melody, and that flute theme, the suite ends gloriously with the jubilant hymnal.

A concert to be treasured by all Morricone fans.

Ian Lace

Rating: 5

Gary Dalkin adds:-

This disc is a DVD presentation of a concert conducted by Ennio Morricone on 20 October 2004 in Munich, with the composer directing the Munich Radio Orchestra and Choir in a performance of music from 18 of his film scores. (see track listing below this review). For any film music fan it is an excellent, thoroughly enjoyable disc. I can not but agree with Ian’s comments on the music.

I would note that, excellent as the DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is – with generally well balanced mixes with the music focused across the front sound-stage supporting ambience from the rear speakers – there is a tendency to mix solo instruments at an un-naturally loud level, making the concert seem more like a soundtrack album than a live performance. Conversely I noticed a occasions when I could see an instrument being played  - but at least when played back in stereo PCM on my PC – could not hear it at all. This particularly applied to some percussive piano chords in the opening The Untouchables. Still, the DTS and DD mixes when played back through a high quality home cinema system sound both lush and extremely powerful.

The concert itself is filmed with admirable restraint, mostly from locked down still cameras, occasionally with an elegantly smooth tracking shot. Editing is simple and unobtrusive. Visual gimmickry in camera work and editing is entirely absent. In fact the style is very much akin to a BBC television broadcast of a classical concert. IN this setting, like Ian I found little purpose to the film clips used, thankfully sparingly in a few selections. All they served to do was distract me from the presentation and remind me I was watching a DVD and was not actually at the concert. The clips themselves are not of especially high quality, with the footage from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly looking like it came from a damaged old print transferred slightly out of focus – a far cry from the superb image clarity of the recent DVD of the film. This is though a minor complaint in context. The clips occur only briefly in a handful of selections.

Finally, being the grumpy old man I am, I feel compelled to make a principled objection. This is a EuroArts DVD release of a German concert by an Italian composer. The disc is manufactured in the European Union, which, with the exception of the France, exclusively uses the technically superior PAL television system. Yet the disc is manufactured for the NTSC television system. This can only have been done to maximise sales in the American market without having to go to the trouble of making separate PAL and NTSC versions of the title. In the US it is not the norm to have DVD players capable of processing PAL signals, whereas the rest of the world, though largely PAL equipped, is generally quite capable of playing NTSC discs. So while we in Europe can play the disc, and see a very good picture, that picture is not as good as it should be because the disc is an NTSC conversion rather than a pure PAL original. Not only is there the matter of the loss of 100 lines of picture information, but the image demonstrates that clearly processed, artificial look which is hard to describe but easy to spot, and results from PAL material being converted to the NTSC format. The prospective argument that it would be economically unfeasible to produce separate PAL and NTSC versions of this title is hard to maintain.

Despite my grumbling, this is an excellent concert with a presentation that is still very good. It looks as good as a top quality digital TV broadcast and sounds as good as the best DVD releases. Few can object too much to that.

Gary Dalkin


Track Listing:

  1. Opening
  2. The Untouchables
  3. Once Upon a Time in America – suite
  4. The Legend of 1900
  5. Cinema Paradiso
  6. H2S
  7. The Sicilian Clan
  8. Love Circle
  9. Love Circle
  10. Maddalena
  11. Once Upon A Time in America – Cockey’s Song
  12. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
  13. Once Upon A Time in The West
  14. A Fistful of Dynamite
  15. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly –Ecstasy of Gold 
  16. Canone Inverso – Making Love
  17. Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion
  18. According to Pereira
  19. The Working Class Go to Heaven
  20. Casualties of War
  21. The Desert of The Tartars
  22. The Mission
  23. Credits

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