LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: The Film Music of Nino Rota
PERFORMER: Massimo Palumbo (piano)
The London orchestras won’t like to hear this, but it’s now clear that in Silva Screen’s City of Prague Philharmonic – largely staffed by moonlighting members of the Czech Philharmonic – the film business has found its ideal band. Check it out on Wojciech Kilar’s soundtrack to Roman Polanski’s new film THE NINTH GATE, and see what it does with this seasoned symphonist’s wonderfully spooky score. Kilar studied composition with the great Nadia Boulanger, and though his film music stays on the accessible side of atonality it’s packed with the kind of challenge which sorts good bands from bad.


If you want further evidence of its excellence, listen to its tracks on THE ESSENTIAL MAURICE JARRE FILM MUSIC COLLECTION, which reflects the majestic sweep of this French titan’s oeuvre from A Passage to India and Doctor Zhivago to Witness and The Tin Drum. (But if you are a Jarre-addict – and want to be fair – you will also check out the Philharmonia Orchestra’s excellent CD of the full LAWRENCE OF ARABIA score.)

The City of Prague musicians have hit a third time this season with FELLINI-ROTA: LA DOLCE VITA. This is a splendid compilation of works by the composer who dominated Italian film music in the mid-20th century; here are echoes of all Fellini’s greatest films, from the severe La strada to the outrageous Satiricon to the tenderly bucolic Amarcord.

And this is the cue for an unexpected delight from Chandos. THE FILM MUSIC OF NINO ROTA takes us into the composer’s inner sanctum: played by Massimo Palumbo, these pieces are Rota’s own original transcriptions for piano, and they’re bewitching. In a moving booklet note, Rota’s friend Piermarco de Santi recalls the composer’s words a few days before his death in 1979: ‘When I sit at the piano, when I’m searching for a melody, I might perhaps think myself happy… But how can one be happy amid the unhappiness of others? The feeling that animates my music is the hope that it will bring at least a moment of serenity to those who hear it.’ Which is exact: as performed by Palumbo, these pieces have a simple truthfulness which warms the heart. Someone should publish them in sheet-music form.

But back to the big guns: here comes ENNIO MORRICONE, officiating at the piano for a concert performance of his own greatest hits. Given with the orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, this is some concert, with the immortal fanfare from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly following lyrical moments from Cinema paradiso and winding up with the climax from The Mission.

And here comes, also, that younger master Gabriel Yared, in harness with his regular director Anthony Minghella. As Minghella convincingly argues, the music in THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY should really be considered a character in its own right. In Patricia Highsmith’s novel, the leitmotif was painting, but by transposing it to music Minghella has unlocked a protean genie. The soundtrack is a seductive mélange of jazz styles, and it also reflects the psychological complexity of the plot: this Lebanese composer is emerging more strongly with each new film he sets.

Meanwhile, soundtracks continue to pour out from what one must sadly call the ‘British’ school. Sadly? Well, the chief characteristic of such music is its utter predictability. Michael Nyman may have started out as the Sid Vicious of film music, but he seems to have left his spirit in the detox clinic: in his score for Mike Winterbottom’s WONDERLAND the old stylistic tricks are still there, but now stuck in treacle. Rachel Portman’s score for THE CIDER HOUSE RULES is wall-to-wall wistfulness, while Patrick Doyle’s music for LOVE’S LABOURS LOST manages to incorporate songs by Berlin and the Gershwins without any roughening of its pale English tastefulness.

But there’s worse stuff around: Eric Serra’s score for JOAN OF ARC is menace and oceanic rumination by the yard, and James Horner’s soundtrack for Chris Columbus’s BICENTENNIAL MAN is a solid hour of industrial-strength plangency of the sort which stood him in such good stead with Titanic. Celine Dion sings the closing number, her heartfelt croak building to a torch singer’s yell in the approved pop style. And for Sony this rates as a ‘classical’ disc.


And so back to the piano. LOVE AT THE MOVIES is pianist Michael Chertock’s take on ‘classic’ themes by everyone from Nino Rota to the aforesaid Horner. Thank goodness for GLENN GOULD AT THE CINEMA, which brings us real music – including a rare recording of Richard Strauss’s Fünf Klavierstücke – accompanied by booklet notes on music and film by the egregious guru himself.