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Best Scores of 2014 – Italy

December 24, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

My second article in my Review of the Year 2014 looks at the Best Scores from Italy. Italian cinema doesn’t quite have the same level of acclaim and popularity as it did in the past, and the state of Italian film music is not once what it was either; the country’s heyday, when composers like Ennio Morricone, Pino Donaggio, Nino Rota and Riz Ortolani dominated, appears to be mostly over, and today’s most prominent Italian artists (Dario Marianelli, Carlo Siliotto, Nicola Piovani) are working mostly on non-Italian projects. Ironically, it appears to be for Italian television that the most promising music is being written today, and my picks for the best Italian scores of 2014 include three works for TV, and one stunning work for an under-the-radar art house piece from a composer to watch.

 

FURORE: IL VENTO DELLA SPERANZA – Stefano Caprioli

furoreilventodellasperanzaFurore: Il Vento Della Speranza (Passion: The Wind of Hope) is an epic Italian TV drama series directed by Alessio Inturri, starring Giuliana de Sio, Stefano Dionisi and Francesco Testi. It tells the story of the Licata family, who move from Sicily to northern Italy in the aftermath of World War II seeking their fortune, but find their path to happiness and success hampered by racism, exploitation of workers by capitalists, and rampant political corruption. The series was a popular success on the Italian TV channel, Canale 5, with special acclaim being reserved for its score by composer Stefano Caprioli.

I don’t know much about Stefano Caprioli – he’s from Venice, is 52 years old, and has been working on Italian film and TV projects since the mid 1990s – but on the basis of this score I now know that he is a very, very good composer. His music is steeped in that rich, classical Italianate sound that people like Ennio Morricone and Nino Rota had in abundance; melodic, thematic, and with that indescribable sound that is somehow warm and melancholy at the same time. The opening cue, “Addio Alla Nostra Terra,” is a beautiful waltz-time piece that changes instrumentation as the cue progresses, moving from lush strings and a light, pretty cimbalom/dulcimer, to piano, to more prominent woodwinds. It speaks of an affinity for your home, of respect and nostalgia for the past, and is absolutely beautiful.

The rest of the score is no less effective; “Un Passato da Nascondere” is a gorgeous, somber, slow piece for solo cello and woodwinds with an almost subliminal hint of a cooing choir, giving the piece a moving religioso feeling. The sense of tragedy and heightened emotion is enhanced further by the inclusion of a stunning wordless female vocal in the cue’s second half – one part Edda dell’Orso, one part Lisbeth Scott – that gave me chills the first time I heard it. “Con Gli Occhi dell’Amore” is lighter and sunnier, effortlessly romantic, while “Una Scelta Disperata” is a wonderful Morricone spaghetti western pastiche, a tense collision between harmonica, jaw harp, rumbling piano textures, and more Edda dell’Orso-esque vocal stylings.

“Nell’Abbandono” brings listeners right back into the sounds of Italy with a lovely accordion melody accompanied by a lush orchestral backing; “Le Cose che Feriscono” returns to the beautifully poignant tones of the second half of the opening cue, with a reflective duet for piano and woodwind that eventually melts into a luscious string variation; and the score ends with a more dramatic flourish in “La Furia dei Momenti,” which presents a more modernistic version of the main theme.

The soundtrack for Furore: Il Vento Della Speranza is available as a digital download, and comes with a major recommendation from me. It’s only half an hour in length, but this is just enough to give listeners a flavor of Caprioli’s obvious talent, and allow them to luxuriate in this beautiful music from the old country.

Track Listing: 1. Addio Alla Nostra Terra (6:44), 2. Un Passato da Nascondere (3:17), 3. Con Gli Occhi dell’Amore (2:56), 4. Una Scelta Disperata (3:13), 5. Nell’Abbandono (2:47), 6. Le Cose che Feriscono (3:35), 7. La Furia dei Momenti (5:30). RTI Music; 28 minutes 05 seconds.

 

I SEGRETI DI BORGO LARICI – Stefano Caprioli

isegretodiborgilariciI Segreti di Borgo Larici is an Italian TV mini-series, one part drama one part thriller, starring Giulio Berruti, Serena Iansiti, Simone Colombari and Nathalie Rapti Gomez. Set in 1922 it focuses on lives of members of the Sormani family, wealthy textile merchants who own the Borgo Larici country estate in Piemonte, but who harbor a dark secret surrounding the apparent suicide of the family matriarch years previously. The series was canceled by the Canale 5 network in March 2014 due to poor reviews and poor ratings, despite the show’s lavish production design and epic scope, which includes composer Stefano Caprioli’s excellent score.

The score starts out nervously, with the punchy, percussive “Segreti e Vendette,” before adopting a more Morricone-esque lushness and thematic beauty in “Il Mondo di Anita,” which is centered around a pretty piano melody, surrounded by swelling strings. “Casa Sormani” has a sense of mechanical movement, likely mirroring the whirring of the machinery in the family textile factory, with dancing classical strings, light piano arpeggios, tick-tock wooden percussion, and airy, prancing woodwind lines.

“Anita e Francesca” is more conventionally romantic, again centered around the piano, strings and woodwinds, but with an idyllic, contented air that is very appealing, and a sense of tender longing that is thoroughly engaging. “Tema di Claudia” continues in the same emotional vein, but switches the instrumental focus to oboes and cellos which share the melody back-and-forth between them; the same can be said for “Storia di Eva,” which takes similar instrumentation but adopts it to a slightly more introverted, but still spectacularly beautiful theme.

The conclusive “Borgo Larici” addresses the drama of the piece, and the dark history of the Sormani family, with a bolder, more urgent orchestral theme. Here the orchestra is underpinned with more rhythmic ideas, and even has a subtle electric guitar down in the mix, giving it sense of power and grandeur but never compromising the integrity of the score as a whole. Elegant variations for solo cello and clarinet end the cue, enhancing the sense of mystery, and rounding out the album on an appropriately unresolved note.

The soundtrack for I Segreti di Borgo Larici is available as a digital download, and comes strongly recommended, especially for those who enjoy strongly classical, strongly thematic drama scores. Like Caprioli’s other major score from 2014, Furore, it’s only half an hour in length, but likes that score is more than cements Caprioli’s reputation as one of the most talented composers working in the Italian domestic film music industry.

Track Listing: 1. Segreti e Vendette (1:53), 2. Il Mondo di Anita (1:52), 3. Casa Sormani (6:01), 4. Anita e Francesca (5:00), 5. Tema di Claudia (2:51), 6. Storia di Eva (3:31), 7. Borgo Larici (5:49). RTI Music; 27 minutes 01 seconds.

 

LE MANI DENTRO LA CITTÀ – Andrea Farri

lemanidentrolacittaLe Mani Dentro la Città (Hands Inside the City) is an Italian police detective TV series broadcast on the Canale 5 network, starring Simona Cavallari as Investigations Commissioner Viola Mantovani. The story involves the apparently simple drug-related death of a young man on the outskirts of Milan, but as Mantovani digs further into the circumstances of the young man’s death, she begins to uncover a web of mystery involving the drug trade, a powerful Mafia family, corruption, money laundering, and murder. The score for Le Mani Dentro la Città is by the young Italian composer Andrea Farri, who is one of the most popular composers on Italian TV right now, having written music for popular shows such as Squadra Antimafia and Il Tredicesimo Apostolo.

Farri’s music is contemporary and action-packed, blending orchestra with modern electronic samples and rhythms, creating a sound that captures the essence of modern Italy, where old classics and new technologies sit side by side. The opening “In Azione” is excellent, with rapid and urgent string pulses underpinned by thrusting electronic percussion. This carries through into “Scalata al Potere,” which increases the electronic element in an almost Daft Punk/Tron Legacy sort of way, offsetting the violin ostinati with bubbling, churning synth tones and fat, wet, brass chords. The title track, “Le Mani Dentro la Città,” is a nervous and tension-filled mood-setter, but contains some lovely dark interplay between violins and cellos underneath the sampled percussion.

“La Famiglia” is more traditionally classical, with a prominent piano part that carries over into the mystery-laden and brooding “Ispettore Benevento”. “Il Nostro Impero” returns to the Tron-style electronic flourishes, adding a driving force and a sense of forward motion to the superb string-and-piano action music underneath it. The penultimate cue, “Ndrangheta a Milano,” is spiky and uncomfortable, pitting an insistent string ostinato and harsh brass clusters against more thrusting orchestral and electronic textures, leading into the conclusive “Ricominciare da Capo,” which ends the score on a more reflective note, with gentle piano lines and a string accompaniment that adopts a tone of remembrance, prior to a final statement of the dramatic main theme.

The soundtrack for Le Mani Dentro la Città is available as a digital download, and despite running for just a touch over a 20 minutes, gets a strong recommendation from me as a great example of contemporary TV scoring that acknowledges the styles and sounds of modern action-thriller music, but doesn’t allow them to overshadow the significant contribution proper orchestrations can bring.

Track Listing: 1. In Azione (1:50), 2. Scalata al Potere (2:53), 3. Le Mani Dentro la Città (2:56), 4. La Famiglia (2:06), 5. Ispettore Benevento (2:27), 6. Il Nostro Impero (3:26), 7. Ndrangheta a Milano (2:24), 8. Ricominciare da Capo (3:03). RTI Music; 21 minutes 09 seconds.

 

RED KROKODIL – Alexander Cimini

redkrokodilRed Krokodil is a strange, dream-like drama film, directed by Domiziano Cristopharo, set in a dystopian future where a man, who apparently lives alone in a Chernobyl-esque post-nuclear city, is addicted to a powerful narcotic nicknamed ‘krokodil’. The film examines the concept of societal decay, using the decay of the man’s drug-ravaged body as an allegory for the breakdown of civilization. The film has been a cult success following its screenings at several festivals, with notable praise being afforded to its original score by German-born Italy-based composer Alexander Cimini.

Considering the dark and disturbing nature of the film, with its themes of human suffering and societal collapse, it is quite surprising to discover that Cimini’s score is absolutely gorgeous. Playing against type, Cimini juxtaposes the film’s on-screen horrors with music of exquisite beauty, thereby enhancing the power of the visuals by giving them an operatic sense of grandeur. The opening “Red Krokodil Main Theme” is stunning, a haunting, heartfelt viola theme accompanied by a rich, tender orchestral backing that speaks of suffering and loss.

This overwhelming classical style continues through the rest of the score; occasionally, different orchestral timbres will highlight a certain cue, such as the tinkling cimbalom in “Alone,” the elegant harp glissandi and searching strings of “My Wounded Body,” the glorious violin writing of “My Little Green Crocodile,” the glorious symphonic sweep of “Reflection in the Water,” the pretty music-box version of the main theme in “Prologue,” and the longing, emotionally heightened finale in “The Window”. This music is of concert hall quality, vivid and powerful, capable of taking the most awful human experiences and translating them into moments of astonishing, anguished beauty.

In addition to the score for Red Krokodil, the soundtrack CD on Kronos Records also includes selections from two video art works called “C_age” and “W(t)omb’, for which Cimini also wrote the music; a piece called “Endless Roads” from one of Cimini’s earlier films, Marco; a Cimini-penned bonus track called “Passion and Love” from Kristian Sensini’s score for the film Hyde’s Secret Nightmare; and a piece by composer Gabriele Verdinelli entitled “Capuccetto6”. These vary in style – “C_age” and “W(t)omb’ are more abrasive and contemporary, “Endless Roads” is soothing and ambient, and “Passion and Love” has all the emotional histrionics one would expect from a track with that title – but they all pale in comparison to the outstanding work on Red Krokodil, which is one of the most unexpectedly superb scores of 2014, and earmarks Alexander Cimini as a composer to watch.

Track Listing: 1. C_age (3:50), 2. Red Krokodil Main Theme (5:53), 3. Alone (2:37), 4. My Wounded Body (2:15), 5. My Little Green Crocodile (2:21), 6. Endless Roads – from Marco (3:16), 7. My Mind (2:00), 8. Reflection In The Water (2:16), 9. Prologue (2:51), 10. W(t)omb (5:14), 11. Capuccetto6 (written by Gabriele Verdinelli) (3:33), 12. The Window (2:58), 13. Passion and Love – from Hyde’s Secret Nightmare (7:08). Kronos Records KRONCD-045, 46 minutes 48 seconds.

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