These original recordings of 14 film titles from composer Nino Rota are a reminder of the potent force of Italian cinema in the post-war years. Although most of them were first shown in art-house cinemas, titles like La Strada, La Dolce Vita and Amarcord garnered attention at the Oscars and grossed substantial currency in America and across Europe. The collaboration of Nino Rota and Italian director Federico Fellini in 11 films in this collection may not be as celebrated as that of Herrmann and Hitchcock, or Mancini and Blake Edwards, but it’s hard to imagine Italian neorealism without Rota’s simple, direct melodies and his flair for adorning a scene without undue harmonic complexity.
All the recordings on this compilation are originals, so an ear attuned to a modern soundtrack will find the sound rather boxy, a not uncommon trait in many films of that period. However, any technical shortcomings are soon forgiven as the music wafts from the speakers like a heady perfume. The opening track from Fortunella sets the scene with the sweet sound of the violins, with a touch of portamento, as they launch the memorable theme which Rota couldn’t resist employing again in The Godfather (1972).
The major-minor turn in the melody of Le Notti di Cabiria and La Strada, whether played on trumpet or sung by Katyna Ranieri, echo Fortunella. The singer also relishes the song in La Dolce Vita, with its echoes of Mack the Knife, where the setting in the demimonde of Rome in the late 1950s is further emphasised in Rota’s jazz/pop scoring. Rota’s art speaks to us immediately, too, in the rowdy circus music from La Strada, echoed in Otto e Mezzo, as well as in the syncopated scoring of a red light district in Il Bidone.
Rota taps into the local folk genre with the accordion-infused music from Rocco and His Brothers which contrasts with his sweeping waltz of romance and passion from Visconti’s The Leopard, the atmosphere enhanced by the playing of a small ballroom orchestra. In later music from the 1960s, it’s interesting to hear the emerging cinematic talent from other European countries such as John Barry in Casanova and Francis Lai (Un Homme et Une Femme) in Giulietta degli Spiriti.
Original film poster artwork adorns the CD jacket with synopses and notes in French. There have been a number of first-rate new recordings of Rota’s film music these past few years, but there’s no denying the authenticity of these originals, which possess a magical charm of their own.