Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Need for drama: part 4

Title: Il prigioniero (The prisoner)
Year: 1978
Composer: Ennio Morricone

A forgotten TV movie about an intellectual man who is sent to political exile in 1930s Italy under Mussolini’s rule. That’s pretty much everything I know about the project and the score by Ennio Morricone doesn’t really give a clue about the events that they should underscore. Even though this score isn’t a classic there are certainly much to enjoy in the 2010 Digitmovies album which is now sold out completely.

When you look at the tracklist you notice only a few different titles. L'estate è finite is the main theme which is almost unbearable with its sadness. The beautiful flute solo carries the piece and it’s accompanied by soft strings that transform from their ominous beginning to offering at least some salvation at the theme’s latter part. The melody is then reprised by the harpsichord. Versione 2 drops the main melody and just has the melancholic backing strings while harpsichord plays the slow ostinato that usually accompanies the main melody. After many long suspense cues the theme is reprised fully in Versione 3 making it sound both nostalgic and fragile. Versione 4 offers another ‘backing track’ without the main melody and harpsichord. The final sendoff of the theme in track 15 has only the solo harpsichord and strings but it lacks the emotion that is achieved by the flute.

The longest tracks on the album are devoted to uneasy yet restrained suspense. I due prigionieri introduce this main idea with two solo flutes resembling the opening string phrase of the main theme. However the mood continues to a completely different direction: the flutes wander together endlessly and are later joined by intense unison string backing and countermelodies. Some people might find this kind of scoring irritatingly boring but there is an intrigue about Morricone’s attention to ever developing sense of doom that never reaches a climax. This method was utilized in another Morricone score I… comme Icare the following year. The motif gets its best variation in Versione 3 that begins with a piano solo that has some qualities that are heard in Maestro’s chamber music works. The strings appear once again but this time they become almost overbearing with their dramatic intensity that is amplified further with harmonies that start to sound a bit off at times. Finally the crystal-clear flute comes in and pounds the shocking repetitive musical effect straight to the bottom of the listeners’ stomachs. Similar more aggressive variation by the woodwind section is applied to Versione 7 but with more tedious results. Versione 4 begins directly with the whole orchestra and this time the orchestrations make it float in a way that is almost pleasing. The longest version in track 12 is also the most extroverted and features a piano, a harpsichord and a bassoon as the primary instruments. The last album cue leaves the listener into a state of anxiety because there is no clear resolution to the wandering suspense.

Versione 2 is a different suspense method that Morricone reprised in Il bandito dagli occhi azzurri in 1980. This time the flutes form open chords and the suspense is created with countermelodies provided by the piano and bassoon. It’s developed fully in Versione 5 which begins with two echoing piano lines that are joined by a harpsichord playing that very same line but slowed down. The unison high strings also make an appearance but they never outshine the other instruments and thus the track has almost serene qualities despite being suspenseful. At the end the strings settle in their lower register and provide actually moving harmonies while the suspense is handled by the pianos.

Si l’ammuri is an original song that sounds like a Sicilian folk song. The performance by the unnamed male voice is tragic, but his voice isn’t very pleasant to listen to. There is also a viola-piano duet called Dove sei amore which resembles the material of some romantic composers and would be perfect for a restaurant setting. There’s also Versione vocal of the track but it’s actually a different melody this time in 4/4 beat. The vocal performance has a schlager music like cling to it.

It might sound that I describe only moods and instruments in my review but that’s pretty much which makes the soundtrack special. Most of the cues comprise of repeating short phrases and there isn't much variety melodically or harmonically. However the listener’s interest is maintained with instrumental choices and at times meditative, at times brooding atmosphere. The album is very heavy to finish with one listen due to the overbearing drama of the music. It’s nevertheless a nice addition to Morricone’s more small scale efforts.

Rating: ****

1. L'estate è finita (versione singolo lato A) (03:03) *****
2. I due prigionieri (04:54) ****
3. I due prigionieri (versione 2) (03:58) ****
4. Si l'ammuri (01:42) ***
5. L'estate è finita (versione 2) (02:48) ****
6. I due prigionieri (versione 3) (05:29) *****
7. Dove sei amore (03:34) ****
8. I due prigionieri (versione 4) (04:22) ***
9. L'estate è finita (versione 3) (02:14) *****
10. I due prigionieri (versione 5) (06:01) *****
11. Dove sei amore (versione vocal) (03:02) ****
12. I due prigionieri (versione 6) (06:11) ***
13. L'estate è finita (versione 4) (02:48) ****
14. I due prigionieri (versione 7) (03:01) ***
15. L'estate è finita (versione 5) (02:15) ****
16. I due prigionieri (versione singolo lato B) (03:39) ****

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