DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Ennio Morricone – Arena Concerto (2002)

Perfectly timed with Morricone's honors at the recent Academy Awards

Published on March 2, 2007

Ennio Morricone – Arena Concerto (2002)
Ennio Morricone – Arena Concerto (2002)

Music for the Cinema by Morricone
Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra/Morricone
Gilda Butta, piano; Susanna Rigacci, soprano; Choirs of City of Rome, Claudio Casini, Dei Fiorentini, Lirico Sinfonico Romani, Ruggero Giovanelli
Directed by: Giovanni Morricone
Studio: Euphonia/DRG Records 18005
No region code
Video: 16:9 widescreen color
Audio: DTS 5.1, DTS 2.0, DD 2.0, PCM stereo (concert); DD 2.0 & PCM stereo only on extras
Extras: Documentary on Ennio Morricone’s Musical Paths “Microgrooves” (16:52); Sala Prove – Chamber music concert (27:10); Biography; Credits
Length: 146 minutes
Rating: ****

Perfectly timed with the welcome attention devoted to Morricone at the recent Oscars ceremony, this DVD – which was shot live at the giant outdoor venue known as The Arena in Verona, Italy – presents a continuous concert medley of 15 excerpts from a variety of his film scores.  On the podium is the composer himself, and although the orchestra is listed as a sinfonietta it appears to be larger than any typical symphony orchestra.  The assembled polyphonic choir seems even larger, consisting as it is of five different choirs.

Some of the themes will be more than familiar to U.S. listeners, coming from well-known films such as Cinema Paradiso, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and The Mission.  Others are mostly unknown in North America. Morricone has a wider range of styles and approaches in his scores than I had realized. Sometimes I heard shades of Korngold or Hermann, and the music for The Working Class Goes to Heaven sounded like Kurt Weill. He has a predilection for both solo and choral vocalise, as well as oboe solos. The images vary between long shots of the musicians – showing the imposing outdoor setting – to extreme closeups of, say, the hands of the harpist or pianist, or the careful playing of a French horn soloist. The visuals are not terribly high resolution, especially in the long shots. This is probably at least in part due to the low-level lighting. The images are all a bit dark, but raising the brightness or contrast controls washed out the dark areas of the picture.

The DTS 5.1 soundtrack was superb, once I finally succeeded in turning it on.  Five attempts using the DVD’s own audio menu failed; it was only using the Audio button on the remotes of two different DVD players that I was able to switch from the default PCM stereo to DTS. The clever documentary on Morricone intersperses into the various shots of the composer talking about his craft closeups of a needle in the grooves of a 78 rpm disc (which is not microgroove at all, but never mind…). It thereby eliminates the jump cuts which often mar talking-head interviews in DVD extras.

The Chamber Concert extra is a weird bird. There is absolutely no identification anywhere of the selections – presumedly all by Morricone – which are performed, nor of who the three musicians are.  It opens with the trio of players opening the door to the recital hall, and at the end they pack up and leave the same way. During parts of the concert the camera – evidently on a Steadicam – circles endlessly around the performers in the most moving-camera-oriented  visual presentation of classical music I’ve ever seen. Almost got seasick.  Still, a great concert of worthwhile movie music and in first-rate surround sonics worth struggling for. A double-CD version of the same concert has been released by DRG at the same time.

TrackList (some are reprised): Cinema Paradiso, Once Upon a Time in America, The Legend of 1900, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, A Fistful of Dynamite, The Battle of Algiers, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, The Working Class Goes to Heaven, Casualties of War, The Desert of the Tartars, Richard III, The Mission.

 - John Sunier




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