Those NTSC-only viewers who felt a bit slighted because Ennio Morricone's first concert DVD, Arena Concerto, was in PAL now have a chance to view the recent Munich concert, which featured slightly different content from the 2002 Verona concert.
Dropped from the 2002 program are themes & suites from Marvelous Light (released in 2003), Sacco e Vanzetti, Burn! and Richard III (the 1912 silent film, re-scored by Morricone in 1997). In their place are themes & suites from The Untouchables (2:21), H2S (2:33), The Sicilian Clan (3:55), Love Circle (5:00), Maddalena (4:08), and a (14:57) suite from Canone Inverso /aka Making Love (from 2001).
Taking place indoors, with the Munich Radio Orchestra and Bavarian Radio Chorus, Morricone conducts a lively selection of material from his enormously prolific career, with occasional film clips from Cinema Paradiso, The Desert of the Tartars, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - a background inclusion that's mostly unnecessary, given the music's the thing for audiences and fans. (Tartars may have been the least familiar of the trio, but that's since changed, given that film's recent DVD release from NoShame, with a remastered soundtrack album as bonus disc .)
Morricone Conducts Morricone [MCM] is a more tightly edited program on DVD, and lacks the walk-ons of some key musicians, like soprano Susanna Rigacci and pianist Gilda Butta, that were retained in the edit of the Arena concert. Titles of each performed score, however, appear onscreen, and the too-fast end credits list the evening's main participants. Technically, the transfer, editing, and camera movements of MCM are very crisp, and the controlled taping is arguably superior to the Arena concert, itself captured in an open-air environment, with a greater barrage of harsh lighting.
MCM, however, contains a stereo 2.0 soundtrack, and 5.1 Dolby and DTS mixes adapted from the 2.0 mix-down, and offer a low-volume, mono centre channel, and stereo rear surrounds with minor echo processing and notched volume to stay in balance with the front stereo channels.
The lack of a truly discreet surround mix does present a few problems, as a few key passages were either poorly miked or smothered by surrounding instruments in the recorded performance. For example, the second instrumental rendition of the famous whistling in The Good "Main Titles" (performed by solo bassoon) is virtually subliminal after the first percussive march, while the call-and-answer routine is clearly defined in the Arena 5.1 and 2.0 mixes.
Admittedly, the minds of the familiar will unconsciously fill in the missing solo (an advantage to having heard Morricone's theme so many times), and while not a discreet recording, the DVD's sound design is a more broadly miked recording, and maintains a warmer tone than the Arena material.
The MCM's slow-down version of The Good is also more bass-friendly, and Morricone chose a less orchestral/rock style. Rigacci's soprano solos are also well-balanced, and her haunting voice - razor sharp, and beautifully modulated - carries the bittersweet melody from Once Upon a Time in the West, with full orchestra accompaniment and clarity.
Gilda Butta's piano solos are just as memorable, and like other musicians, it's absolutely fascinating to watch her perform both elegant solos, and Morricone's sometimes maniacally repetitive parts. In the case of Butta, her agile hands hammer the steady classical and triplet figures from the H2S main theme, feeding and leading other orchestra sections in one of Morricone's more buoyant compositions.
In all of the composer's live performances - either those captured on DVD or CD - there's a balance between classic film works (the Sergio Leone westerns are standard), a few recent scores, and material from the seventies and eighties.
The theme from Love Circle (a structural template for Morricone's evil Burglars theme) is late-sixties orchestral pop, with elegant stings performing a melancholic bridge between the percussive portions; Maddalena's electric theme is also performed with a close-miked electric bass, tingling synths, chimes, and pounding drums, and are later fused with a full wordless chorus.
Part of the concert's fun factor is also watching musicians perform the sounds many admirers have come to love and recognize as part of Morricone's style, and the DVD's generous cutaways also unmask (a bit) what instrumental combinations are used for certain string or percussive effects.
It's also rather educational to see instruments like the panflutes performed live - with Ulrich Herkenhoff employing an extraordinary level of precision to achieve the warm, soulful melodic phrases in Once Upon a Time in America. As a contrast, there's the experimental-styled title track for The Working Class Goes to Heaven, using percussion, low celli, woodwinds, and a solo violin after a forced recitative, interrupted by a vicious synth warble that's meant to evoke a layman's concrete drill; and the colours of the Tartars theme, which employ muted tuba, and Morricone's recognizable intermeshing of strings for an ethereal, tragic-bound effect.
MCM is a straightforward bare bones release, but EuroArts' DVD will please Morricone's admirers for its diverse thematic material, and excellent renditions by full orchestra and chorus.
Clearly his international respect and fan base have made it commercially viable to record and release a film music concert on DVD, but whether such a production can happen with other film composers is perhaps something for which fans should be moderately concerned; Morricone may be among the few of his generation - alongside Maurice Jarre, with his1991 Lean by Jarre concert video and album - to pull off such a venture, but it's admittedly tragic that neither the late Elmer Bernstein nor Jerry Goldsmith - who mounted their own international concerts over the years - managed to preserve their events on home video.
Of the more recent film music-related concerts and recordings on DVD, there's Fred Karlin's Jerry Goldsmith doc (which contains extended footage from The River Wild scoring session), Eastwood After Hours (the 1997 Carnegie Hall concert conducted by Lennie Niehaus), and four DVDs featuring Michael Kamen: Eric Clapton's live 1990/1991 concert 24 Nights, Metallica's 2000 orchestra experiment, S&M, the 1999 production Pink Floyd: The Wall (Live in Berlin), and Kamen's own 1991 Concerto for Saxophone (with David Sanborn).
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan