April 2005

Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone
Yo-Yo Ma and Ennio Morricone
Sony DD300034
Format: DualDisc
Released: 2005

by Anthony Di Marco

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***
Image Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ****

Crossover gimmicks are plentiful in the world of recorded music. Second-rate bands try to jump-start a career by covering songs penned by "legends," while talented musicians sell out as a dog-and-pony show to popularize a less-accessible genre.

Film composer Ennio Morricone is one of the most important composers of the twentieth century. His numerous film scores are as memorable and enduring as many of the finest symphonies. Maestro Morricone is a profound favorite of mine, so I was concerned to hear that gifted-cellist-turned-pop-icon Yo-Yo Ma would be covering some of his most famous compositions. Recently Ma was making up part of his career playing guest musician to John Williams and Bobby McFerrin. Both collaborations teetered further toward banality than originality. I found Ma’s juxtaposition to Morricone a wholly different story.

On this disc, tracks from Director Roland Joffe’s The Mission and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America gain added emotional punch and a heightened sweetness that yanks at the heartstrings. The music for Brian DePalma’s heartbreaking and underrated Casualties of War and the epic theme from the classic The Untouchables resonate in Yo-Yo Ma’s harmonically rich treatments. I single these particular tracks out because they are among my favorites. However, the same praise can be heaped upon the effort as a whole. Each lush performance made my daily, bumper-to-bumper commute bearable.

The CD side of this DualDisc release made that possible. The stereo performance sounded quite good, while the compressed, Dolby Digital, multichannel side suffered from way too much grain in mid and high frequencies. The only video gimmick on the entire disc is a ten-minute documentary chronicling the Ma-Morricone partnership. Unfortunately, the heavy-handed political clap-trap should have been sacrificed in the name of less compressed music by making the DVD side a DVD-Audio effort.