Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Exotic flavours: part 4

Title: Maciste nelle miniere di Re Salomone (Maciste in King Solomon’s mines)
Year: 1964
Composer: Francesco De Masi

Maciste was an Italian Hercules-like strongman character who first appeared on the big screen during the silent film era and later was resurrected by the peplum films of the 60s and 70s. This time he has to save a village from working as slaves in a gold mine. Only a few tracks from the score by Francesco De Masi have survived to this day and they were released along with two other short scores in 2010.

The ominous opening cue Outline of history has De Masi’s typical dramatic orchestral writing that unfortunately isn’t that interesting until the end when a short fanfare is introduced probably depicting the hero himself. Disappointingly that heroic mood is short-lived because the continuation in Mystery in the mines is just dull suspenseful music that has barely any melodic hooks to grab on. Some of the woodwind lines are rather nice but they’re overshadowed by the surrounding dullness. Maciste and the King offers more uninteresting drama before the pace fastens and menacing brass fanfares build into a brief action statement that again dissolves before developing into something more meaningful. The score is at its loudest in Destruction of the mines however I once again find myself being bored by the supposed bombast that seems to lack any thematic thought behind it. Judging by the title I would imagine this cue to be the film’s final action scene, but judging by the music it never reaches the right scope. The short finale cue builds into a typical hopeful orchestral crescendo that would be better if only some of the thematic material heard here would have been present in the preceding tracks.

The lack of a hummable melody and feeling of emptiness behind even the larger action statements make this score quite forgettable. It is by no means unbearable but just falls flat compared to the other two scores on the album.

Rating: **1/2

Title: La rivolta delle gladiatrici (The arena)
Year: 1974
Composer: Francesco De Masi

The second score featured on the album is from a gladiator/exploitation flick about slave women who have to fight for their freedom in a gladiator arena. A great action ostinato opens the score after a cool brass fanfare on top of which the film’s main theme is heard on the woodwinds. This surprisingly emotional melody is heard in full in Le gladiatrici with another surprising addition, a mournful humming choir which disappointingly is never heard again. The lullaby-like nature and the romantic harmonies nevertheless build into an extremely moving and nostalgic piece of music that showcases De Masi’s stellar thematic writing.

Unfortunately this score suffers from the same problems as Maciste. You see, many of the cues can’t hold the listener’s interest because they offer barely anything to hold on. Sfida nell’arena for instance has only sparse brass fanfares over a slow, meandering bassline again missing any thematic threads. Combattimento tries to amp up the atmosphere with percussive action writing but the overall minimalistic approach and the questionable quality of the brass bursts just doesn’t work. Luckily the main theme returns in a subdued version in the cue’s latter part Desolazione. Morte nell’arena returns to the duet of percussion and brass which probably is suitable for the scene in question but really doesn’t musically depict the threat of a gladiator battle. Even the main theme can’t save the dullness of the following cue that probably should be one of the film’s climatic action sequences but just fails musically. The last cue doesn’t offer anything new and even the short quote of main theme starts to sound uninspired. There’s no big resolution either but everything just fades away in a quiet and beaten down manner.

The opening action and brilliant main theme could have resulted in a much more thrilling listening experience but unfortunately the minimalistic approach for the moments of action just doesn’t work without the visuals. Probably due to budgetary reasons especially the brass section sounds very small hence creating a very thin sound. Taken all this to account the score unfortunately feels like a missed opportunity.

Rating: ***

Title: Il figlio dello sceicco (Kerim, son of the sheik)
Year: 1962
Composer: Francesco De Masi

By far the best score on this release is the last one, Il figlio dello sceicco. The film about two rivaling brothers who are battling for the domination of the desert received a colourful score by De Masi filled with a vast contrast of styles ranging from Middle-Eastern moods, brutal action setpieces and a few lovely romantic passages.

Probably after the previous dull cues the beginning, Aurora sul deserto sounds just like a breath of fresh air. But also by itself it’s a magnificent composition that prepares the listener for the wonders of the Middle-East. The main theme introduced here draws inspiration from oriental atmospheres but the harmonic touches are pure De Masi. I also love how seemingly simple the melody is but when you listen closely you realize the underlying changing time signatures and rhythms. A nostalgic love theme is heard in Trionfo dello sceicco before an earth-shatteringly majestic rendition of the main theme ends the cue in a glorious orchestral crescendo. La tenda dell’odalisca is the score’s most romantic cue which bounces between the love theme and the main theme but has also surprising bursts of suspense heard previously in Mistero fra le sabbie. Love theme returns also in Verso l’oasi before turning into a dramatic action cue with Middle-Eastern brass fanfares and menacing low piano lines.

The abundant action writing is very brutal compared to the romantic moods. Combattimento nel deserto has menacing brass fanfares amid rhythmic string writing and bursts of larger orchestral forces clearly signaling a large-scale battle sequence. A driving rhythm continues in Galoppo e attesa over which the majestic main theme receives a heroic rendition. The previously mentioned action fanfares are heard in a major key arrangement at the beginning of Agguato alla carovana which return after a short moment of sneaky suspense blasting through a wall of sound produced by the massive percussion section. After another recurring descending action motif of Introduzione e angoscia the mood cools down momentarily reprising the action statements in a more peaceful manner. Mistero fra le sabbie goes even further offering nocturnal mysterious tension that is just a joy to listen to due to De Masi’s clever and colourful orchestrations. These moods open also Battaglia fra le palme which then develops into another massive action cue with occasional glorious main theme statements signaling the victory for our heroes. But it’s not the complete victory yet because eventually the tension and drama return again. Wretched variations of the main theme and action fanfares are heard in L’imboscata dello sceicco which later features more furious action that continues into a more laid-back yet menacing caravan cue Pericolo nella Casbah that momentarily changes to a more hopeful mood before returning to the drama. The final two cues feature similar action music heard in the other cues but the overall mood is more hopeful though still very dramatic. Unfortunately there is no big finish but the score just ends abruptly with no clear musical clue whether or not the hero won.

The score feels a bit like one long action cue which showcases some of De Masi’s greatest orchestral writing. However the brutal nature may be off-putting for some listeners and the lack of a proper resolution also diminishes the listening experience a little. Nevertheless it’s the score to return to on this release due to the great melodic moments and in-your-face attitude presented throughout.

Rating: ****1/2

“Maciste nelle miniere di Re Salomone”
1. Outline of history (02:40) ***
2. Mistery in the mines (03:29) **
3. Maciste and the King (02:53) **
4. Destruction of the mines (03:17) ***
5. Maciste and the glory (01:26) ****

“La rivolta delle gladiatrici”
6. Azione e suspense (02:03) ****
7. Sfida nell'arena (03:21) **
8. Le gladiatrici (03:32) *****
9. Combattimento e desolazione (02:48) ***
10. Morte nell'arena (03:16) ***
11. Preparazione all'agguato (02:32) **
12. Azione misteriosa (03:09) ***

“Il figlio dello sceicco”
13. Aurora sul deserto (02:49) *****
14. Combattimento nel deserto (03:18) ****
15. Galoppo e attesa (00:53) ****
16. Agguato alla carovana (03:13) *****
17. Lo sceicco in azione (01:20) ***
18. Introduzione e angoscia (02:28) ****
19. Mistero fra le sabbie (02:20) *****
20. Trionfo dello sceicco (01:38) *****
21. Battaglia fra le palme (03:24) *****
22. La tenda dell'odalisca (03:54) *****
23. Verso l'oasi (02:06) ****
24. L'imboscata dello sceicco (02:30) ****
25. Pericolo nella Casbah (02:27) *****
26. Inseguimento tra le dune (02:06) *****
27. All'ultimo sangue (02:01) ****

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