In the summer of 1943, and for reasons still unclear, Milan’s best young composer moved to the undeveloped south of Italy and stayed there for the rest of his life. Nino Rota, at 32, was content to be a teacher in Bari, later director of its Conservatorio. Had he not needed to earn a little extra money on the side in Rome’s dolce vita film industry, he might never have been heard of again.
A closing pair of preludes reduced me to the kind of silence only Bach can bring
Rota’s symbiotic partnership with the director Federico Fellini, starting with The White Sheik in 1952, catapulted him to world fame and redefined the art of composing for film. If we think today that something sounds like “film music”, it will bear one of two thumbprints — either Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s in Hollywood or Rota’s in Cinecitta. Like Korngold’s, Rota’s “serious” music suffered by comparison. Riccardo Muti, one of his students at Bari, has revived some of his concert scores. The present album, with an all-star cast of Berlin Philharmonic principals and pals, trains the spotlight on a pair of trios and a nonet that Rota wrote in Bari at the peak of his film productivity.
A private man, short in stature and sparing with words, Rota had a rare gift for musical introspection. Fellini said: “His world was inner, inside himself, and reality had no way to enter it.” His trios dance all over the stave but within them one hears a small, still voice in a self-exiled wilderness. The nonet is no less astonishing, reaching a transcendence high above the general run of musical conversation, on a par with Martinu’s contemporary masterpiece. Emanuel Pahud, Daishin Kashimoto, Aurelien Pascal and friends are kept on their toes by quicksilver inspirations. A closing pair of preludes reduced me to the kind of silence only Bach can bring.
Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print
Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10Subscribe