Friday, 7 April 2017

CrimeWaves: part 6

Title: Missus (Vatican story)
Year: 1994
Composer: Ennio Morricone

The 90s is probably my least favourite decade in Italian film music and most Italian albums I own from that period are by Maestro Morricone. Even he seemed to recycle a lot of his old tricks and many scores from that time felt quite uninspired. Luckily there are some exceptions like the score to a TV miniseries Missus which is a project that I could once again find barely any information about. Supposedly it is about a Vatican priest who is recruited to help out the resistance movement in the Soviet Union during the cold war. The score was released over a decade later in 2007 and offers a heavy reliance to Maestro’s previous works but also some ingenious new tricks.

The words that sum up the whole score are meditative and slow-burning. The melodies take their time to develop and are by no means flashy but extremely understated. However this time that’s a complement and the reason why the music possesses such beauty. Take the opening cue Per Olga for instance. It quotes Maestro’s Deborah’s theme from Once upon a time in America almost note to note (which by the way is one of Maestro’s most overrated pieces, not my favourite at all) but after a while goes into its own way, never purposefully trying to milk tears. Instead the mood stays in a comfortable level where the emphasis is on the beautiful orchestrations and their delicate performance. Viaggio verso dove continues in the same vein but it has an even prettier long-lined theme with a heart-wrenching oboe solo (or solo organ in the reprise) which then turns to a more positive B section for warm strings and woodwinds. I also have to praise the performance by the orchestra which sounds so celestial, like the playing is coming from somewhere beyond our time. The first version of Espressivamente umano has just Morriconean romantic string chords and simple piano lines but in its longer reprise the main melody gets some development and there’s a dramatic surge by the whole string section which offers the most beautiful single moment on the album. The last romantic theme is perhaps the most dramatic one, namely Dolcemente espressivo which just aches with suppressed love that tries to break through by rising up into a crescendo but failing with devastating sadness.

Of course among the romantic atmospheres there is time for some action and suspense given the subject matter. Ritorno a Mosca has a surprising electronic tinkling rhythm underneath which gives the piece momentum even though the accompanying dramatic melody isn’t that memorable by Maestro’s standards. The album’s most interesting cue by far is Nel vortice which consists of aleatoric woodwind phrases played independently of each other. They form the basis and then are joined by an electric bass rhythm and later some loud, urban brass chords. The combination of contemporary classical elements and modern electronics sounds weird on paper but works brilliantly creating a rather unique experience. The last action-orientated cue is Senza ritorno where a dramatic melodic line moves first from the trumpets to the woodwinds and then to the strings and finally the brass, simultaneously having a constant movement underneath provided by rhythmic staccato brass and woodwinds.

The two longest cues on the album probably offer the most tedious moments for listeners who aren’t keen on Maestro’s experimental side. The wandering, slow-moving high strings of Missus are used in many other suspense tracks by Maestro, however this time there is a certain transparency to them thanks to the orchestral performance. At times the harmonies might even sound somewhat beautiful even though it is an atonal composition at its core. The 10-minute monster of a cue Nel buio, la solitudine is more melodic though the harmonies sound mostly quite off. The whole cue is built around a repeating 8-note motif (similar to one Morricone used in the film Rampage) which is variated in occasional moments of quieter reflection before the motif returns in a more menacing ostinato-like setting on top of which the rest of the orchestra plays slower, macabre countermelodies.

Missus isn’t the most original Morricone score when you judge its romantic material. However the few moments of movement are handled quite intelligently and uniquely. Nevertheless the dramatic impact of the music can’t be denied, and the understated beauty of the sublime orchestral performance is a good reason for a relisten from time to time.

Rating: ****1/2

1. Per Olga (04:03) ****
2. Ritorno a Mosca (02:06) *****
3. Viaggio verso dove (05:05) *****
4. Espressivamente umano (02:39) ****
5. Missus (06:52) ****
6. Dolcemente espressivo (03:04) *****
7. Nel vortice (03:26) *****
8. Per Olga (03:48) *****
9. Senza ritorno (03:00) *****
10. Espressivamente umano (04:23) *****
11. Nel buio, La solitudine (10:17) ****
12. Viaggio verso dove (04:29) ****
13. Dolcemente espressivo (03:04) ****
14. Per Olga (04:09) ****

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