Thursday, 6 April 2017

Nella fantasia: part 2

Title: The wonders of Aladdin
Year: 1961
Composer: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino

The wonders of Aladdin is an Italian-American-French co-production directed by Mario Bava who later has received a cult-status as a filmmaker. The score for the picture was written by an Italian film music legend Angelo Francesco Lavagnino who clearly took inspiration from the 1001 nights but kept many of his trademark sounds as well. The problem I’ve had with some of Lavagnino’s scores is that he had the tendency to overscore. I realize that it was how films used to be scored at the time he was at his most prolific and he certainly wasn’t the only composer doing so. But every single emotion had to be Felt with a capital F, every romance had to be Romeo & Juliet etc. What makes a good film score for me is also to know what to leave unscored and to have a sense of subtlety. Despite everything I said, I completely fell in love with this colourful score even though it contains some of the things I complained about. There’s such a sense of fun throughout the whole score that it leaves you smiling long after the album is finished.

The album starts with Main title which establishes the desert scenery immediately with its predictable yet fun chord progressions. However the piece starts to develop into a fast Middle-Eastern dance which probably is the most convincing thematic thread for the title character and is reprised a few times later on. The pace just keeps fastening with every added instrumental line before the mysterious yet dramatic strings make their return. The ominous, exuberant brass fanfare that opens The procession probably represents Aladdin’s foe, The Grand Vizier but luckily turns into a more mellow piece of music with softer percussion and wonderful ethnic instrumental touches. The marketplace is a piece of more traditional bazaar music that once again creates mental images about the locale as any good film score should.

The first longer action setpiece is Aladdin on the run which features action motifs that also sneak into many other cues with several disguises. The atmosphere balances between comical piano, woodwind and xylophone –led passages which are interrupted by sudden bursts of mysterious strings and an array of different pounding percussion instruments. The Genie is represented with mysterious solo flute and harp textures whereas The deadly mechanical doll receives similar magical instrumentation that turns sour at the end. Djalma’s dance is similar to the opening bazaar music -like dance pieces once again with the fastening rhythm.

The adventure aspect of the story continues in On the way to Basora which is a majestic, forward-moving piece that offers brief glimpses of melodic brilliance. Princess Zaina receives her own theme which is heard a few times on the album. This long-lined melody isn’t instantly hummable because it surprisingly includes some impressionistically fluffy harmonies and doesn’t follow the regular Hollywood route. Nevertheless it’s a magnificent composition and an extremely attractive piece of music, one of the score’s highlights for sure. The other long setpiece Attack on the caravan starts with the similar majestic harmonies that were featured in the previous cues associated with the caravan. However soon a steady percussion rhythm appears with low-key rhythmic piano passages and dramatic brass fanfares turning the atmosphere towards more serious issues for our heroes. Aladdin’s theme receives also a dramatic variation on top of the underlying chaos.

After this moment of action we return to more mysterious moods in Mirage which reprises the magical organ harmonies and comical piano passages. The Amazons have their own theme for accordion which is joined with The Genie’s harmonious textures in the following few cues. The serious drama is back in The Grand Vizier which continues to another sneaky action sequence Prison break and recapture. The comical moods of track 4 are heard once again but this time there’s a palpable sense of impending failure especially at the end when the ominous Vizier fanfares of track 11 make their return. Aladdin’s theme gets a full reprise in The dancing doll which is a delight to hear for a fleeting moment. A cliché xylophone solo is heard for The skeleton before faster string ostinatos depict The prisoners escape.

The score’s climax begins with Aladdin’s dance, another full version of Aladdin’s theme which begins after a short woodwind introduction before the familiar fastening rhythm and accompanying xylophones appear along with the furious fiddle solo. Palace fight is a short action statement dominated by strings and martial brass writing which makes then way to the low-key piano rhythms. The atmosphere of the caravan attack makes a return in The Grand Vizier’s horsemen which cools down to the final duel which isn’t an epic Hollywood action ending but a series of tango-like rhythms from the saloon piano and comedic whistles. The score ends with The flying carpet which is a massive version of Princess Zaina’s theme that gives a warm sendoff in the best romantic tradition.

The album ends with some alternate versions including for instance a faster version of Princess Zaina’s theme which is just lovely, and a longer film version of the Finale with a glorious crescendo at the end. There are also a few different recordings to the US cut of the film that aren’t conducted by Carlo Savina like the rest of the score rather than Mario Ammonini. The differences aren’t really that noticeable but the orchestral performance, especially the brass instruments sound slightly different compared to the rest of the score.

The wonders of Aladdin has everything you could hope for since everything feels like a part of a larger whole. It’s the best score I’ve heard by Lavagnino and probably will change some of my preconceptions about his music and encourage me to delve more into his vast body of work. If you can still find the album somewhere I highly recommend picking it up because it’s apparently sold out already with only a small limited number of 400 copies floating around. Bravo both to Maestro Lavagnino and to Alhambra Records for releasing these rare gems on a regular basis!

Rating: *****

1. Main title (02:17) *****
2. The procession (01:27) *****
3. The marketplace (01:18) ****
4. Aladdin on the run (05:41) *****
5. The Genie (01:13) ****
6. Djalma’s dance (01:13) ****
7. The caravan - The Grand Vizier of Basora (01:04) ****
8. The deadly mechanical doll (00:31) ****
9. The caravan sets off - On the way to Basora (02:04) *****
10. Princess Zaina (Longer version) (02:06) *****
11. Attack on the caravan (05:27) *****
12. Mirage (01:31) *****
13. The Amazons (01:47) ****
14. The Genie is summoned again (01:29) ****
15. The Genie and the Amazon (00:59) *****
16. The Grand Vizier - The Magician (01:14) ***
17. Prison break and recapture (03:33) *****
18. The Dancing doll (01:02) *****
19. Secret way to the palace (01:08) *****
20. The skeleton - The cows - The prisoners escape (01:16) *****
21. The babies are switched - Rescue of the King‘s newborn baby (01:07) ****
22. Princess Zaina enters (00:44) *****
23. Aladdin‘s dance (02:06) *****
24. Wedding gift from the beggars (00:47) ***
25. Palace fight (01:18) *****
26. The Grand Vizier’s horsemen (01:22) *****
27. Aladdin’s duel with the Grand Vizier (02:46) *****
28. The flying carpet – Finale (Film version) (01:08) *****

Bonus tracks
29. The marketplace (Longer version) (01:32) ****
30. Princess Zaina (Film version) (01:23) *****
31. Finale (Longer version) (01:21) *****
32. Attack on the caravan (US version) (05:31) *****
33. Mirage (US version) (01:00) *****
34. Prison break (US version) (02:06) *****
35. Fanfare #1 (00:14) ****
36. Fanfare #2 (00:05) ***

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