Nino Rota: L'Amico Magico

Piccola Orchestra Avion Travel

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Nino Rota: L'Amico Magico Review

by Mariano Prunes

For years, the little orchestra Avion Travel have been one of the most respected names in the Italian music scene, thanks to their refined mixture of jazz and pop sensibilities. It is precisely their interest in the combination of the erudite and the popular that makes the connection with Nino Rota, a classical composer by training with a fondness for the dancing jazz of the 1930s and '40s, an obvious one. Rota's scores for film directors such as Fellini, Visconti, Zeffirelli, Zampa, Monicelli, and Wertmuller, among many others, defined the sound of the golden years of Italian cinema. His international credits include classics such as King Vidor's War and Peace, René Clément's Plein Soleil, and, most famously, Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather and The Godfather, Pt. 2 -- Rota died in 1979, years before the third installment. L'Amico Magico, Avion Travel's timely CD/DVD tribute to the beloved film composer, was released in 2009 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Rota's death. "The magical friend" was the nickname Federico Fellini gave Nino Rota, for he considered Rota's music indispensable to achieve that unique magic associated with the great Italian director's films. Rota's themes are characterized by their peerless fusion of supreme beauty with haunting melancholy: that was the secret of the such magic, and Avion Travel do a superb job in re-creating it. But for one or two instances, the selections include all the obvious choices: La Strada, Amarcord, La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2, Le Notti di Cabiria, Romeo and Juliet, The Godfather. Since the performances on film have become so iconic, Avion Travel's main challenge was to inject new life into Rota's standards. The first, and most unexpected, strategy is to make it an album of songs, rather than instrumentals. While many of Rota's main themes had lyrics (sometimes written by famous poets), it is often the instrumental version that is most remembered. On the other hand, nine of the 13 tracks of L'Amico Magico are crooned by Peppe Servillo -- which, it goes without saying, offers a fairly different approach to Rota's repertoire. Another new element is the unobtrusive introduction of electronic and percussion sounds, blended into the orchestra accompaniment typical of all Rota's scores. A famous Caetano Veloso song in honor of Giulietta Masina (Fellini's wife and inimitable protagonist of some of his best films) is also included, the only track not written by Rota. Still, the overall impression is one of deep respect for the material, rather than of new insights into it. L'Amico Magico is as accomplished and elegant a record as one could expect from the intersection between Avion Travel and Nino Rota, but it is also one not entirely devoid of a certain mannerism. At any rate, we should all be thankful to Avion Travel for providing us with a perfect excuse to listen again to the marvel that was the music of Nino Rota.

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