Monday, 2 January 2017

Need for drama: part 2

Title: La corrispondenza (Corrispondence)
Year: 2016
Composer: Ennio Morricone

A year has passed again and for many it’s the time for “The Best of…” lists. Well Maestro Morricone’s latest film score to Giuseppe Tornatore’s critically panned La corrispondenza was recorded in 2015 after the Oscar-winning score to The hateful eight but the film and album were released in January of 2016. This score therefore would be eligible for my best film scores of 2016 list and would definitely end up in there though it’s not a fully golden effort by Maestro’s standards. It’s still a refreshing effort of old European film music tradition among some of the poor excuses for film music we got during the year. In addition there are some choices that are rather unique to Maestro’s soundscape still after 60 years of film scoring.

The album begins with two long pieces that cover over 20 minutes of music and introduce the instrumental choices and overall mood of the album but don’t offer any thematic threads that would be revisited later. La casa sul lago begins with a piano solo played by a Morricone regular Gilda Buttà which is joined by soft strings that provide few accents here and there while the piano wanders on in the echoing space. The melody that is played is more for creating colour than any hummable theme. This gives the composition a free-flowing atmosphere and the feeling of impressionistic beauty. The similar approach applies to Una stella, milliardi di stele as well but the minimalism is taken even further. Morricone had a trend of writing long constantly repeating cues in 2015 (especially both of the main themes from The hateful eight and the opening to En mai…) and this cue is this score’s version of that. It starts with a simple, slow phrase for the piano that altogether lasts about 1 minute 10 seconds before it’s repeated. With every repeat some other instrument comes in building layers upon layers of sound. The majority of the cue features soft electric guitar chords and synthesizers before a countermelody for electric guitar solo is added around 5-minute mark. The overall effect is rather hypnotic and beautiful and perfect background music for relaxation. I could understand though why some people would label it as boring.

The album provides a mixture of different styles of music that result in a series of individual pieces that aren’t really tied with a unified theme. Improvvisazione in sol is one of the album’s surprises. It features a slowly-paced, complicated electric guitar solo and synth pads not that far from artists like Pink Floyd. Though electric guitar has been featured in many Morricone scores, I think it has never been utilized this way. The track begins with the first version of the main theme before it turns to darker waters transforming the piece into an improvisatory piece of new-age rock’n’roll that is surprisingly soothing. Stuntgirl offers the album’s only moment of action for the desperate string section, strumming electric guitar and low-rumbling piano which are rather exciting. The peace is restored in Due camera in hotel which is a classic Morricone string adagio that provides a melody that unfortunately isn’t heard elsewhere but it’s just so painfully beautiful and romantic you almost want to cry. Yet another style is featured in Una storia nella storia which is a piece of two separate lines played on the piano creating a fugue clearly inspired by Baroque composers. The effect might be suitable e.g. for a scene in an art gallery but on the album it sounds rather bland. The style is reprised in Invenzione breve in minor key and it’s certainly an improvement.

The recording of Una luce spenta

This far there really hasn’t been a strong main thematic thread except for a short appearance in track 3. There is one though and what a theme it is! Otherworldly tease version of the theme starts the title track La corrispondenza before it turns into a pretty piano solo. Dramatic strings introduce a variation of the main theme in L’infinito spazio but once again it’s overshadowed by other material, namely mournful light drama. The theme gets its greatest moment in Una luce spenta that begins with a solo piano before guitar and strings come in and finally make way to the full version of the theme. I haven’t been this moved by a Morricone theme since his score to Sorstalanság from 2005. The piece is just pure beauty written on sheet music. I’m especially moved by resolution to minor iii chord in the cadence IV / vi / ii / ii / iii (B minor in G major composition). After the first version of the theme we get a truly beautiful duet for piano and solo violin before the theme repeats. Easily the best track on the album and one of most beautiful moments in 2016’s film music.

There are two other returning ideas as well. Il ritorno di una stella introduces the first one again with a guitar solo before an absolutely sublime orchestral swell that is intensified with synthesizers. The melody is reprised in Calco that features also a similar classical moment to track 7 though this time the other melody is actually the main theme in disguise. The second one is a wandering piano melody that really reminds me of another Morricone melody but I really can’t name which one. It’s heard in Parabola astratta and Il cane simpatico latter of which also has a reprise of the main theme for space-like synthesizers. The last thematic reprise comes in Disperata chitarra that reprises the new-agey rock’n’roll playing over steady, sorrowful string chords before giving the main theme a sendoff that feels rather incomplete and hazy but in keeping with the impressionistic style heard in the first two tracks thus bringing the album to a full circle.

At first I wasn’t that impressed with La corrispondenza, however over time I learned to embrace its slow-moving and leisurely atmosphere. Also realizing how many disguises the main theme gets was an eye-opening reminder of Maestro’s talent. There are almost no dissonance Morricone is known for which makes the album easy to recommend to those who are afraid of that. This time the experimentation with rock music might be a turnoff to some but there should be enough soothing melodies and moods to please a great number of listeners.

Rating: ****1/2

1. La casa sul lago (07:15) *****
2. Una stella, miliardi di stelle (13:27) *****
3. Improvvisazione in sol (04:16) *****
4. Stuntgirl (02:25) *****
5. Due camere in hotel (03:04) *****
6. La corrispondenza (02:28) ****
7. Una storia nella storia (05:14) ***
8. Il ritorno di una stella (01:29) *****
9. L'infinito spazio (03:35) ****
10. Una luce spenta (06:04) *****
11. Parabola astratta (02:10) ****
12. Calco (02:33) *****
13. Veloce corsa (02:26) ***
14. Il cane simpatico (01:55) ****
15. Invenzione breve (01:20) ****
16. Disperata chitarra (05:33) *****

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