Ennio Morricone Once Upon A Time... The Essential Ennio Morricone Film Music Collection Review

Released 2004.  

BBC Review

Stick the disc in the tray, feel the sierras beneath your stirrups and just ride.

Morag Reavley 2004

A miaowing harmonica slides into the sleaziest of riffs, anguished, yearning, but always resolute. It is the sound of a man restless of heart, noble of spirit, striding under giant skies towards a date with fate. Cowboy, walk tall.

No other film genre is as closely defined by its music as the spaghetti Western. No other film composer has shaped music as unmistakable as Ennio Morricone. The bolognese sauce to Sergio Leone's pasta, Morricone's cowboy soundtracks are a monument on our celluloid soundscape.

The first disc of this Morricone double-bill is dedicated to those spaghetti Western scores. For all their familiarity, they still dazzle with originality. In films such as Once Upon A Time in the West, A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly Morricone built up a layered sound which was poppy, avante garde even, in its instrumentation. Lashing whips, hollow gunshots, meaningless choruses, whistling, echoing pipes, tubular bells and stylophones are all tipped into the collage. The result is a thousand times meaner and dirtier than the fanfare-full, galloping scores of traditional American Westerns.

There was much more to Morricone than cowboys. The second disc features themes from his other work, including The Untouchables and The Mission. As in his westerns, his trademark was contemporary, synthetic sound in compellingly simple settings. Highlights include The Sicilian Clan of 1969, a spiky two-step on electric guitar, bubbling with menace and ripe for a club remix; the hypnotic other-worldliness of his theme for Exorcist II; and Chi Mai, that infuriatingly catchy theme from French thriller Le Professionel (yes, you do know it).

For seasoned fans, there is little here not readily available in earlier collections. But the quality of the recording by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra is excellent, capturing the saturated sound and period cool of the originals.

There will always be a place for Morricone in the hearts of any fan of film or popular music, not to mention anyone who ever wanted to be Clint Eastwood. Stick the disc in the tray, feel the sierras beneath your stirrups and just ride.

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