What would the films of Alfred Hitchcock be like without the accompanying atmospheric soundtrack of Bernard Hermann? Would ‘Psycho’ be anywhere near as enthralling and chilling an experience without the dramatic orchestrations? One could make exactly the same argument for one of Italy’s greatest contemporary composers outside classical music and whose music will immediately conjur up images of post WWII Italian cinema. His name is Nino Rota and there have been several tribute recordings to him in recent years, including one a year or two ago by Richard Galliano reviewed in this column. However, this wonderful double CD re-issue is the original soundtrack music from the main man and what comes across is the sheer eclecticism of approach from Rota who was influenced himself by Rossini, Ellington as well as popular entertainment music.
One of the greatest films of all time is Federico Fellini’s ‘Otto e Mezzo’ (‘Eight and a Half’) and Rota penned some of his finest music and ploughed all his creative efforts into that project. Rota has a unique listening ear which enabled him to capture disparate musical genres and combine them into a cohesive whole that his very own imprint marked on it. In this vein listen to the métissage of musical hall of classical meets music hall on ‘Carlotta’s Galop’, or the jazzy excursion of a piano trio on ‘Guido e Luisa. Nostalgico Swing’, complete with clarinet and tenor saxophone. Sheer genius and one musician who has undoubtedly been heavily influenced by this cross-fertilisation of sounds is Paolo Conte. Just soak up the relaxed joie de vivre on ‘L’Harem’ with orchestrations that are right out of the Ellington master class and you will start to realise how other musicians have taken on board Rota’s incredibly perceptive and sensitive ears and mind. Italian folk music tradition is not forgotten either and on the rustic accordion plus guitar accompaniment on ‘Ricordio d’infanzia – discesa al fanghi’ this leads on to a memorable dance sequence.
The package as a whole is terrific value for money and includes the soundtrack to Fellini’s later film, ‘Boccaccio 70’ in addition to the other major director’s film included here, ‘Il Gattopardo’ (The Leopard’) by Luciano Visconti. The music is more conventional in tone in keeping with the film itself which depicts the struggle for Italian national unity and cementing of a united nation state. The inner sleeves notes are significantly enhanced by some terrific black and white photos of the films and bring to a life a magical era in Italian neo-realism cinema. Once again El/Cherry Red are to be commended for such a sterling piece of re-issuing work. While Nino Rota passed away in 1979 aged sixty-eight, his music will live on and it remains in a golden time capsule just like the glorious cinema he composed the compelling soundtracks for.