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Reprising Music That Shaped the Westerns : ENNIO MORRICONE "The Ennio Morricone Anthology"; Rhino ****

August 04, 1995|Robert\f7 Hilburn

The co-star of all those classic Sergio Leone Westerns was always Morricone. Whether the actual cast was headed by Clint Eastwood ("The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," "A Fistful of Dollars," among others) or Henry Fonda ("Once Upon a Time in the West"), it was Morricone's music that contributed equally to the haunting, existential mood of the films' most memorable scenes.

In stressing the importance of music in Leone's work, director Martin Scorsese once spoke of "Once Upon a Time in the West" as contemporary opera.

"[The film] is an extension of opera, the Italian theatrical tradition," he said. "The music, the framing, the camera movement, the bigger-than-myth epic characters and story are opera. The Italians are not making Westerns; they're making opera for today. That's why the music is so important in all of [Leone's] films."

In a seemingly endless search for the instrumentation to give the music a distinctive and exotic balance between timeless grace and contemporary bite, the Italian composer employed everything from trumpet to anvils and bells to twangy, Duane Eddy-style guitar to strings and whistles.

This two-disc set features pieces of almost three dozen Morricone scores, moving beyond his work with Leone to include such works as "The Mission," "Cinema Paradiso" and "Bugsy." Not everything reaches the magical level of "Once Upon a Time" or "The Mission," but the set is a marvelous overview that showcases the wit and wonder, the mystery and mysticism of a cinematic master.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (e x cellent).

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