3.5 / 5 Stars
Reviewing an Ennio Morricone score is a bit like reviewing a John Williams score. The question isn\'t whether the music is good but, rather, is it good, very good, excellent, or a masterpiece?
It is an impossible task for me to position this score within the Morricone canon in terms of quality. I have heard few Morricone scores, enough to get a good enough grasp on his general stylistics and talent. A quick look at his IMDb filmography will reveal, as of this writing, 555 entries under "Composer". What amazes me is that, after squeezing so many film scores out of his pen, he is still regarded as one of the greats, making him not only a prolific composer, but a genuine master of his craft.
The directorial debut of Lajos Koltai, Fateless, follows the bleak destiny of a 14-year-old Hungarian Jew, Gyura Koves, in 1994 Budapest. As the Nazis are implementing their Final Solution, he finds himself taken prisoner and shipped from one concentration camp to another, drained of what little humanity was in him to begin with. Morricone\'s music serves to bring some of that humanity back. The harmonies and melodies seem to transcend the particulars of the story and score a much bigger, much more universal story. The main theme, given voice by the pan flute, is spartan and touching; it is reprised on the guitar in "A Mirror" over shifting string harmonies. It forms the backbone of the score and is complemented by a more humanistic and maternal theme, heard as a delicate tear-jerker for strings and woodwinds in "About Solitude II". Its primary expression, though, is through the human voice, as heard in the behemoth "Return to Life", as Morricone orchestrates the melody for a female vocalist (Lisa Gerrard), accompanied by spectacular harmonic writing for soprano choir, violins, and lower strings. A piece such as this one is a powerful showcase of Morricone\'s talent for clear, empathic themes, masterful chord progressions, and great restraint in his choice of tones and colors.
In spite of the strengths of the music, the album itself is weakened by a never-ending repetitiveness of the material. The music is generally not varied upon, the composer preferring to reiterate these concert-like pieces over and over again until they lose a bit of their momentum and impact. It is a trend I have also noticed with Williams\' music, this tendency to associate with a theme not only a melody but an instrumental personality to the point where this melodic, harmonic, and instrumental whole has to be repeated unchanged for it to keep its essence. When the listener reaches the sixth track on the album, the original material has run pretty much dry and we are, in essence, hitting the repeat button.
If one were to extract four or five tracks from Fateless, one would get a stronger album than the current presentation. While the writing itself can hardly be faulted, the repeated material tends to wear itself thin after a while. Still, for fans of restrained, humanistic music with a distinct Morricone touch (and a bit of Delerue, maybe), Fateless showcases the talents of a musical force still to be reckoned with, the capacity of Morricone to express the human spirit as a series of notes and to accept hope even in the bleakest of soundscapes.
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