Tuesday, 30 January 2018

WTF (Weird tho' fabulous): part 6

Title: N.P. – Il segreto
Year: 1971
Composer: Nicola Piovani

Nicola Piovani is an Italian composer whose works I haven’t been liking all that much. I mean his works are fine, but perhaps too light-hearted and ‘simple’ for my taste. I purchased this Music Box records album at a sale and it is a fairly enjoyable experience with two quite different scores 10 years apart from another.

The first one, N.P. – Il segreto is a film about a dystopian future society with state control and despotic leaders. The main theme is surprisingly happy given the subject matter. It’s a version of Niccolò Paganini’s Caprice no 24 but turned into a psychedelic 70s beat track with harpsichord, surf guitars, organ and so on. It’s similar to what Morricone did with Dies irae for the film Escalation. Eventually more orchestral elements are added along with a nod to the original composer with a short solo violin passage. The final track includes a la-la choir which is just so fun that you have to start humming along. It’s the highlight of the whole album for me.

Speaking of Morricone, Strike #1 is straight out of his works for political thrillers with steady piano rhythms and weird harmonies with hints to the Paganini melody. It’s a cool little cue but pales in comparison to the brutal force perhaps needed for a political setting. Strike #2 is more aggressive arrangement of the same material and includes even some distorted electronic guitar notes to disturb the mood. Butterfly introduces two recurring melodies. First a semi-religious string melody with unexpected chord progressions, later sung by a choir in track 7 with a sweet accompaniment, the most sincere moment on the album. The second one just wanders on mournfully without that much variation and just repeats itself on and on. That same tune is reprised in Prophet by a solo accordion and viola and finally in Transformation by a marching band which gets unfortunately very tedious with the endless repetition. We return to the martial feel in Montage which begins with just the drums on top of which harpsichord lines and sharp piano notes are then played. Again, it’s more comedic in tone than suspenseful but I’m impressed how entertaining it is with so few instruments.

The score is just under 30 minutes long but even for that amount the material seems enough. Unfortunately there isn’t enough variation and most of the cues are just repeating a short tune with little changes in the orchestration. The main theme and its applications in the two Strike -cues are the highlights and the main reason for further listens.

Rating: ***1/2

Title: Il minestrone
Year: 1981
Composer: Nicola Piovani

The main theme for Il minestrone is a polar opposite in tone to N.P. – Il segreto. The film is a comedy about a group of scoundrels trying to eat for free in restaurants by committing scams. Well this time the melody is dead serious, folksy mandolin tune reminiscent of Italian rural melodies or even Italo-schlager harmonies. This juxtaposition of the subject matter and the music makes it comedic and a delight to listen to. Snippets of the main theme appear frequently for instance at the end of Promenade by a marching band, and in a very silent film like piano/harpsichord duet Food fight which just keeps the mad pacing going. Dog eat dog combines the fastening pace with the nostalgic strings and some marching band creating an entertaining moment.

Most of the album’s other melodies are in the same style as the main theme, sounding pretty much Italian traditional music, a style which Piovani does very well and I’m most familiar of him doing. However many of these melodies are more light-hearted than the actual main theme. There is straight up restaurant source music for either mandolin or viola backed by a strumming guitarist in Invisible meal, Jaunty source and Rich meal.  It’s appropriate scoring but unfortunately the cues start to run into each other and you again start to wish for some variety. A new arrangement by a Strauss-melody Die Fledermaus is written in that same restautant-like way.

Piovani also wrote his own slower Alpine, Strauss-inspired tune which is introduced in Wandering, then heard along with a lonesome trumpet playing the main theme in In the mountains and in its sweetest form in After the storm. Some straight marching band tunes are heard in Marines and eventually in Finale which is an extended treatment of the previously mentioned Alpine tune along with snippets of the main theme. A very beautiful solo piano piece Il maestro is a nice change of pace and highly moving with its simple, descending chord progressions, a clear highlight for sure.

Of the two scores, Il minestrone perhaps is the more approachable one but the material is even more monotonous. If you can’t stand Italian traditional music with emphasis on mandolin, then I advise you to stay away from this one. However I have to admit that the main theme is actually pretty infectious especially when the pace gets going.

Rating: ***1/2

1. N.P. - Il segreto (Main theme) (03:36) *****
2. N.P. - Il segreto (Strike #1) (01:56) ****
3. N.P. - Il segreto (Butterfly) (03:37) ***
4. N.P. - Il segreto (Montage) (03:53) ****
5. N.P. - Il segreto (Prophet) (01:25) ***
6. N.P. - Il segreto (Strike #2) (02:31) ****
7. N.P. - Il segreto (Choir) (02:32) ****
8. N.P. - Il segreto (Transformation) (04:25) ***
9. N.P. - Il segreto (Main theme - choral) (03:38) *****

10. Il minestrone (Main theme) (03:47) *****
11. Il minestrone (Invisible meal) (02:01) ****
12. Il minestrone (Promenade - 1st version) (02:51) ****
13. Il minestrone (Food fight) (02:23) ****
14. Il minestrone (Wandering) (00:53) ***
15. Il minestrone (March) (00:59) ***
16. Il minestrone (Jaunty source) (01:09) ***
17. Il minestrone (Dog eat dog) (02:00) ****
18. Il minestrone (Rich meal) (01:32) ***
19. Il minestrone (Promenade - 2nd version) (02:34) ***
20. Il minestrone (Il maestro) (02:06) *****
21. Il minestrone (Die Fledermaus) (01:47) ***
22. Il minestrone (Marines) (02:51) ***
23. Il minestrone (In the mountains) (01:22) ****
24. Il minestrone (After the storm) (02:14) ****
25. Il minestrone (Finale) (04:21) ***
26. Il minestrone (Main theme - alternate version) (03:11) *****

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