Sunday, November 07, 2004

Exploring the CD Collection, #8

(Gee, I used to write about music once in a while, back in the day before we re-elected Sauron President Bush...hmmmmm....)

Yo Yo Ma plays Ennio Morricone
Yo Yo Ma, cello
Roma Sinfoniette Orchestra
Ennio Morricone, conductor

In the fourth installment of "Exploring the CD Collection", I reported on my fairly intense dislike of Ennio Morricone's score to Mission to Mars, and my more general impression of Morricone that his music does very little for me and that he just kind of glops good ideas right alongside bad ideas, with questionable results. While I still hold that view of Mission to Mars, I have to admit that my opinion of Morricone isn't based on a very large sample size of the man's work. So after reading some glowing reviews of Yo Yo Ma's new CD of Morricone's music (here's a representative sample), I thought, hey, why not. So hey, why not.

I bought this disc at Borders yesterday (a good thing, that, since the version of the disc available at Borders, and at Borders alone, has two extra tracks, for reasons passing understanding), and I played it last night. The disc is gorgeous.

Now, I'm not sure if my enthusiasm for this CD is reflective of some new openness toward Morricone or not; but I do note that the Morricone music I've heard and not liked in the past is not represented here, save for a single track from one of those "Spaghetti Westerns", a set of movies I've never liked and whose music I've never felt much fondness, a fact which carries over here -- that single track is, in my opinion, the weakest one on the CD. (It would work better without the thrumming bass line.) There are a couple of tracks from The Mission, a few from Cinema Paradiso and Once Upon a Time In America (a score which I've often heard described as Morricone's masterpiece). And there are tracks from some films I'm completely unfamiliar with (Moses and Marco Polo). I often hear about Morricone's gift for melody, which is on ample display on this disc. I suspect that my liking of this disc is to a large extent due to Yo Yo Ma's contribution. In recent years I've developed quite a love of the sound of a solo cello, and I've admired Ma's musical curiosity and willingness to break beyond the confines of standard repertoire for a long time. Truth is, if this wasn't a Yo Yo Ma disc, I likely would have bought something else. Like another Yo Yo Ma disc.

Film music compilations are very common these days, and have been for years. The good ones -- think of Charles Gerhardt's remarkable series of albums for RCA -- serve as wonderful starting points for a repertoire too often looked upon as "unserious" by lovers of "serious music", while the lesser ones -- which are far more frequent -- do little at all to challenge that same notion, or even lead their customers to deeper explorations of the world of film music. Yo Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone belongs to the former set. Morricone has reworked his music to add a solo cello, and he's done so very thoughtfully; the cello solo parts alternate between prominence and a more obligato kind of thing. This isn't just a collection of the same old Morricone tracks with a new solo cello part shoehorned into the music. The cello is an integral part of the musical texture.

As I said before, I don't know if I like this disc as much as I do because I'm finally hearing what I've been oft-told what Ennio Morricone is capable of, or because of my admiration for Yo Yo Ma, or a bit of both. I'm hoping for a bit of both.

(BTW, what's with the big "FBI anti-piracy" warning on the back cover and on the CD itself, complete with the FBI seal? Is this really necessary? Why not just emblazon every CD with a picture of John Ashcroft from now on?)

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