Live review: Ennio Morricone, The O2, London, Mon 26 Nov
- Henry Northmore
- 28 November 2018
Final UK show from the master film composer with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and the Crouch End Festival Chorus
Ennio Morricone is an acknowledged master of his art. His work has spanned the decades soundtracking drama, horror, sci-fi and the iconic spaghetti westerns that made Clint Eastwood a star. Celebrating sixty years of music, the composer is in London for his final ever UK performance, conducting the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and the Crouch End Festival Chorus.
Opening with the jazzy 'Legend of 1900' before the playful keyboards and violins of 'Chi Mai' (probably best known for a series of adverts rather than The Great Silence for which it was originally composed); the sweeping romance of the theme from Once Upon A Time in America is the night's first truly sublime moment. There are no fancy gimmicks, just two screens at either side of the stage, with Morricone, as befits his 90 years, conducting seated in front of the massed musicians and singers.
But the moment most have been waiting for is that plaintive harmonica that starts 'Man with a Harmonica', the theme from Once Upon a Time in the West (perhaps the greatest western of all time). It captures an entire genre and the loneliness of the Wild West in just over three minutes. The Sergio Leone segment continues with 'The Fortress' and the main theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Then the bells toll, that simple repeating piano refrain, as the strings swell and a single voice (soprano Susanna Riggaci) cries out. It could only be 'The Ecstasy of Gold' (also from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) sad yet majestic, a masterpiece. Close your eyes and you can almost feel the sun baking down on your back and smell the arid plains of Spain's Tabernas Desert (that stood in for the Old West in many of Leone's movies), a suitably grandiose end to the first half (and the night's first standing ovation).
Despite recent misquotes about his relationship with Tarantino, the second section opens with the ominous 'Last Stage Coach to Red Rock'. However, it struggles to match the impact of the first half despite some wonderful moments such as the industrial grind of 'The Working Class Go To Heaven', the sombre 'Casualties of War' and selections from The Mission.
Inevitably for a composer with such a huge back catalogue, there's too much to cover and some of his best work is left on the cutting room floor (there's nothing from A Fistful of Dollars, The Thing or The Untouchables to name just three). For the encore 'Cinema Paradiso' sparks to life, there's a welcome reprise of 'Ecstasy of Gold' and a life affirming, upbeat 'Abolisson' (from Burn!). It's a thrill just to be in the maestro's company but to hear his music brought to life by over 200 musicians and singers is simply breath-taking.