The music included on this compilation was due to be performed live at the Royal Festival Hall in April, due to the Corona virus outbreak it has been cancelled. But the music has been released by Silva Screen for you to enjoy. The recording will be available on April 17th 2020.
The music in Italian or Spaghetti westerns had a style that was all its own, unique, quirky and innovative. It not only supported and enhanced these sagebrush sagas, but it was at times an integral component of the film and often used during flashbacks as in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST the theme or the instrument utilised being a link between the past and the present. The films and the music for them influenced a whole new generation of film makers and film music composers, its style and sound can still be heard within soundtracks that are being written today. So, it was with much apprehension I sat down to listen to a compilation of THE GREATEST THEMES FROM THE SPAGHETTI WESTERNS by The London Music Works orchestra. There have been many cover versions of the classic Italian western themes but most of these seemed to fall at the early fences not having the correct instrumentation, firstly with the distinct whistle of Alessandro Alessandroni being imitated by a flute or recorder. And like-wise the choral performances of IL CANTORI MODERNI or Orlandi’s Coro 4+4 being done badly or being substituted by synths. But for this recording there is a whistler, and one that does a pretty good job and also the choral work too is top notch, of course it’s not as good as the originals, but I don’t think anything or anyone will ever replicate the sound achieved all those years ago in Rome.
Compilations in the past by LeRoy Holmes, Geoff Love and Hugo Montenegro valiantly attempted to get close to the sound but even these now well thought of covers did fall a little short of the musical mark. I am not going to say that this is a pitch perfect collection, but it’s probably the best I have heard in a long while. It is also surprising that they chose to cover some difficult tracks, NAVAJO JOE for example and not just the opening theme. Ennio Morricone under the alias of Leo Nichols composed a powerful theme for this Sergio Corbucci western and a score that was savage and striking in which the composer employs screams to accompany the central character and underline moments of extreme violence in particularly in the opening scene. Ear piercing scream opens the proceedings and is joined by more chanting until a high pitched and almost strangulated scream ushers in a commanding electric guitar solo that presents the central theme. Embellished by booming percussion and chanting choral work plus an impressive vocal performance by Gianna Spagnola. In the hands of Morricone this is an impressive and shocking opening theme. This cover version, maybe not as powerful as the original, but it’s a brave attempt a fearless rendition that hits the right notes and delivers a faithful if not slightly weaker version of Morricones theme. Also included from this score is SILHOUETTE OF DOOM which is edgy with its percussive elements and driving strings and jagged sounding brass and woods.
The other stand out cue is again penned by Morricone, maybe a little strange for it to be included here a SPAGHETTI WESTERN collection, as it was actually a movie produced by an American studio, TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA was a Clint Eastwood movie, directed by Don Siegal. But as its Morricone I guess we can forgive them for including it in the very impressive line up of tracks.
As I have said its not your normal run of the mill compilation, there are some surprises here, as in DJANGO, THEY CALL ME TRINITY, THEY CALL ME KING, MY NAME IS NOBODY and a particularly nice version of DEATH RIDES A HORSE. Back to TWO MULES for now, it is a really inspired performance of the opening theme that is included here, only one criticism and that is the vocal parts which in the original are sung softly and by maybe three female performers, which give the piece some sense of fragility, are in this case too pronounced and also there are just too many vocalists, but the instrumental performance brings forth the rawness of Morricones original wild shrieks, animal based sounds and hoots and calls that one might hear out in the desert at night time.
These elements build and build to a crescendo of sorts and usher in ferocious pounding percussion and a string performance that although does have a remnant of melody still retains its rawness and gritty persona. Yes, ten out of ten for this one. Moving away from Morricone the compilation also includes, Luis Bacalov’s theme for THE GRAND DUEL, this is a classic Spaghetti western theme, the original having the unique aural sound of Edda Dell Orso, who’s soaring wordless vocals adorned many a western score.
For this the version of the opening theme the Soprano is superb and flawless with the harmonica solo too being effective and engaging and also evocative of the style of Franco De Gemini. There is also DAY OF ANGER, a re-working of the main theme representing composer Riz Ortolani’s pulsating and up-beat soundtrack. This is a grand and powerful arrangement of the movies core theme, opening with a grandiose almost romantic sounding orchestra and leading into the more familiar upbeat electric guitar led theme from the Lee Van Cleef movie.
Going back to Morricone, there is a rendition of RUN MAN RUN from the soundtrack of THE BIG GUNDOWN, which is arguably one of Maestro’s best non-Leone western scores. This arrangement brings together the slower version of the central theme and the vocal originally performed by Christy. The vocal performance here although very good, is shall I say to English sounding, with it not having enough rawness or savagery, but instead we hear a more civilised performance.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is also represented, the three principal themes from the score being featured, CHEYENNE, HARMONICA and the central theme for Jill Claudia Cardinale’s character in the movie.
All of which are well performed. THE MERCENARY (A PROFESSIONAL GUN) is also given an ambitious and successful airing, with THE ARENA cue being included, this is the music heard at the end of the movie, when like most Italian westerns accounts were settled, by the quickness of the draw. I have to say that alongside THE BIG GUNDOWN and THE FIVE MAN ARMY this is probably Morricones most memorable non-Leone western soundtracks.
But in an Italian western the duel or the showdown was more than just a gunfight it was a sequence of events in which the composer who ever they were would come into their own, with directors such as Corbucci, Sollima and Leone often shooting the scene to the music that had been composed prior to the filming of it. This is a compilation that I recommend you listen to it is polished and has to it an aura and a sound that will entertain and delight. Also included are tracks representing A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, DUCK YOU SUCKER and THEY CALL ME NOBODY or MY NAME IS NOBODY as some refer to it.