We All Love Ennio Morricone
ArsLatina and Sony Classical have recently presented an homage to Ennio Morricone's masterpieces, interpreted by a surprisingly heterogeneous group of musical masters, from Yo-Yo Ma to Metallica. The anthology could hardly have a more auspicious timing: it comes on the heels of the Italian composer receiving an honorary Oscar at the 79th Annual Academy Awards. Furthermore, the album opens with "I Knew I Loved You," the same song that Celine Dion sang on the same Oscar Night that the composer received his award. In it, Dion still displays the warmth and shine of her prime, which when combined with flawless orchestration, make this the best song of the album.
Morricone gained international fame through his scores for spaghetti westerns, a 1960s low budget film sub-genre often filmed in Italian. However, this defining feature of Morricone is poorly represented in the present collection. The few well-rounded jazz segments are not enough to save Quincy Jones's take on the classic "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," which could very well have been the tour de force in this production. Rather forgettable, a little too heavy on the "marble in the bottle" kind of percussion, and with extravagant vocal effects, the piece seems a blend of Andreas Vollendweider and Chic Corea. Likewise, the cover of "Once Upon a Time in the West" is no triumph either. The luscious orchestration suffocates Bruce Springsteen's barely-audible guitar, creating the sensation that the piece never quite takes off, blending indistinguishably with the orchestral transitions that Morricone composed to connect the different tracks.
As the works of a writer are translated into many languages, so have the compositions of Morricone been adapted to different musical sub-genres. Some work wonderfully, while others fall flat. In this collection, Metallica's "The Ecstasy of Gold" passes without pain or glory, with the sole merit of making Morricone's diversity of styles more tangible, albeit less convincing. A better testimony to his full spectrum are a young Bocelli's operatic approach to the melancholy "Conradiana," and the refreshing Brazilian style of Daniela Mercury's "Conmigo."
Maybe as antidote to four colorless songs that appear in the second half of the album, I was delighted with an equal number of true gems recorded with the Roma Sinfonietta: the sublime "Gabriel's Oboe" from the movie "The Mission," Yo-yo Ma's nostalgic "Malena" from the movie of the same title, a breathtaking "Addio Monti" by Taro Hakase. The second half of the disc also contained what might be the biggest surprise; Morricone's orchestration of music for the poem "La Luz Prodigiosa," a dark and evocative text, with flamenco undertones, sung masterfully by Dulce Pontes. This piece alone makes the album worth buying. I would add Morricone's "Cinema Paradiso" to this list of gems if it were not cut so short that it could not flourish completely.
In spite of several weak moments, the album, overall, is very good. Collectors might be interested in it because it is, to a large extent, unique: many of the recordings are new, and were conducted by Morricone himself. He also orchestrated the transitions between tracks, although not always convincingly.
Labeling him as the world's greatest living composer is certain to elicit heated discussions about tastes. But admittedly, when measured in sheer output, Ennio Morricone's production is second to none. He is one of the most prolific film composers in history, with hundreds of scores. This album strikes a delicate balance between two forms: it is at the same time a tribute to his genius by other outstanding artists, and one more fruit in his plentiful career.