The Majestic Morricone

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NICK HAMMOND is swept up by a sea-swell of romance at an evening in the presence of film score maestro, Ennio Morricone….

I picture him laughing gaily as he strolls down a cobbled Tuscan street, splashed in golden sunshine, a diminutive, immaculately-coutoured wife on his arm. Or perhaps the Octogenarian zooms about piazzas on a bright red scooter, dispensing carnations to pretty, raven-haired Italian girls.

Whatever the reality – and frankly, he cuts a rather cussed figure tonight at The O2 – Ennio Morricone must surely be one of the greatest romantics of our time. His music – for an incredible 50 years – has seeped into our consciousness through dozens of movies from obscure Italian titles to box office smashes. And its over-riding theme is the joy, pain, torture and triumph of love. At tonight’s concert, including the massed ranks of a 100+ orchestra and the added brio of a 40-strong choir, a lifetime of legendary music making is worshipped by a packed house.

I have never seen a standing ovation at an interval. But this is what greets Morricone after the first hour of this life-affirming performance. The O2 buzzes with delight for the 20-minute intermission. He has startled us with a rapid-fire blitz of his most memorable compositions early on, from the Spaghetti western classics to the achingly beautiful Deborah’s Song from Once Upon A Time In The West – the second piece performed on the night and which moves me to tears.

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Soprano Susanna Rigacci soars above the wall of sound the orchestra makes, a mouth of cavernous depths pouring forth lark-like trills and swoops. It’s notable the orchestra is visibly enjoying itself; performers smile at one another, are impassioned by a music they clearly love to play. The choir has a patient wait on its hands before it gets going, but the exultant, galloping triumph that is The Ecstasy of Gold from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly receives no less than two renditions to rapturous reception before the night is out.

Inscrutable he may be – Morricone offers not a syllable to the audience, in Italian, English or any other tongue – but he still enjoys several operatic encores at the finale of this two and a half hour masterclass. For once, they do not feel stage-managed. Each time the 86-year-old reappears with a curt bow and a nod of his bespectacled head, the cries grow shriller. He even delivers an exasperated snort when one audience member lets the excitement get the better of him and calls out just as the orchestra is to embark on its next piece. But none of his gruffness can detract from what is, without question, one of the finest concerts I have had the privilege to attend.

Time flies and for the majority of it, a pin could be heard to drop in the vast, atmosphere-gobbling space of the O2 arena. Somehow, someway, the maestro makes us feel like we’re with him in his living room. I can see the place now; bedappled with evening sunset, he sits beside an open window in a favourite armchair; perhaps leafing through black and white images of lost memories, past loves. And that brain – that incredibly fertile and inventive brain which has conceived some of the finest movie music ever made – conjures endless melodies and caressing sighs of strings from the ether. If this is the last we shall see of Mr Morricone on these shores, we have been blessed.

Nothing short of genius.

Ennio Morricone played at London’s O2 arena on 5th February 2015 as part of a European tour: 50 Years of Music. For more information on forthcoming venues and dates, visit www.gealive.com.

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