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Review by Brad Green:
In 1973, Nino Rota had the rare distinction of being nominated for an Oscar, and then having that nomination withdrawn. The category was best original score, and the Academy took its unusual action upon discovering that the theme for The Godfather wasn’t so original after all. Rota wrote it all right. The catch was that he re-used a motif from one of his previous soundtracks. 

In any event, Rota wound up with a well-earned Oscar for his second Godfather score; and it is undoubtedly his music for that series, along with the love theme from Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, for which he is best remembered. Not that you’ll find any of those themes here. Beautiful and timeless as they are, they have also become familiar to the point of pop culture status. This album is far more interesting than that. 

Courtesy of local ensemble The Umbrellas, we are afforded the chance to explore one of the great artistic collaborations of cinematic history. Between 1950 and 1978 Rota scored each and every film directed by Italy’s most celebrated auteur, the inimitable Federico Fellini. Indeed it was a Fellini film, Fortunella, which first featured that Godfather theme. But no you won’t find anything from that movie here either.

Instead, The Umbrellas explore the music of Amarcord; La Strada; Juliet Of The Spirits; La Dolce Vita; The Spivs and 8 ½ . It is music that shimmers with symbolism, perfectly in sync with Fellini’s penchant for fossicking around in the most bizarre caverns of the human condition. Rota had a recherché gift: accessible genius. He could contrast a circus frolic with a boozy blues phrase, underline it with percussive festivity, and wrap it all neatly together with an instantly memorable motif. Continental accordions give way to poignant horn lines; jazzy contra-basses stroll beneath romantic piano twinkles; and playful marimbas converse with ethereal mezzo-soprano passages. 

The Umbrellas interpret it all with delightful effervescence. You can veritably hear the bubbles of wit, irony and artistry, inherent in the music, spring forth from their performance. Peter Dasent, the ensemble’s keyboardist and musical director (and an accomplished film composer in his own right) brings a finesse to the arrangements that allows intricacy and delicacy to dance together, without a hint of stepping on each other’s toes. Separated, each of the parts would be intriguing yet somehow incomplete; together they lock like the mechanism of a fine Swiss watch. 

This is one of those rare and wonderful albums where the ultimate rewards are in the details. Play it again and again, and I guarantee that you will exhaust your stereo long before you exhaust the subtleties of the music. 

Published June 27, 2002

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TITLE: Bravo Nino Rota
ID: 20011
Mana Music/Sonart
MUSIC BY: Nino Rota
PERFORMED BY: The Umbrellas 

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