Pompei (Marco Frisina)

Final Musings: Relatively unknown composer, Marco Frisina delievers a hidden gem. With a beautiful theme along the lines of Rózsa’s romantic work, this score will sell to all lovers of harmonic and melodramatic beauty. Although keep in mind, you will not find ambitious action music or any glorified heroic music here. It may not have the ethnic flair or the epic scope of its superior predecessors in the genre, but the thematic beauty of this score alone will make this a solid score to enjoy.

It’s clear that the legacy of Mt. Vesuvius has left its mark on human civilization. After all, who doesn’t love a good disaster story? Accordingly, the infamous tale of the brutal destruction of Pompeii, Italy (caused by the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius), has spawned a vast amount of incarnations in film, literature and music. Amongst the lesser-known cinematic takes on these is the 2007 Italian miniseries, Pompei. The story covers a man who comes back to find his wife sold to slavery only to be followed by the mysterious murder of her master. The protagonist must figure out the true murderer and the unveiling conspiracy in order to save his wife while Vesuvius promptly prepares to explode. The show was not received as well as one would assume, but this largely obscure adaption does present a delightful gem of a score.

Marco Frisina is arguably a largely unknown composer to the mainstream film score world. But his reputation, especially in the Christian world, remains formidable. Being a devout pastor, the man is currently the Rector of the Church of Santa Cecllia in Trastevere, a teacher of the bible and the film composer of a variety of religious-themed films. Frisina founded the Choir of the Diocese of Rome, and has performed and composed numerous compositions for and before both Pope John Paul II Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican. Being, a very religious man, he boasts an impressive resume. In terms of film scoring, most of the films he has scored with the same dedication he seems to share with his faith. Pompei is no exception.

To address the seemingly melodramatic nature of the show itself, Frisina infuses a sense of tragic beauty into the score and its themes. Now before continuing this review, it is important for reviewers to understand that the following plot refernces are inferences based on the track titles (I haven’t had the “pleasure” of watching this show). Let’s proceed to the themes. There are largely three main themes that dominate this beautiful score. For most listeners, the big highlight will arguably be the gorgeous main theme. This theme is a elegant melody that sounds like something that was written right from the maestro, Miklos Rózsa’s very own pen. It is a rather beautiful tune that will, in its prime moments take listeners back to the Golden Age. The theme most certainly has a Rózsa touch that is reminiscent of the countless Roman epics he scored, but this overall benefits this score and is appropriate in some ways to the matter at hand. The theme shines best when played on a solo cello or violin. Listening to its lavish performances on the solo cello and violin in Titoli Di Testa (Main Titles),  Alle Falde del Vesuvio (On the Slopes of Vesuvius), Sulla Riva del Mare (By the Sea) and other cues, one will relish the clear Rózsa feel its trying to go for. The main theme’s most glorious crescendos in cues like In fuga sotto I Lapilli (On the Run in the Lapilli) are impressive. Perhaps its most alluring rendition lies in its romantic, love-theme like performance in Valeria. The theme continues to impress in its more melancholic forms in parts like the opening of Partenza Dell Esercito Romano (Out of the Roman Army).

While the main theme is given significant treatment, it is actually the Pompei theme that dominates much of the score. This is a more tragic melody that debuts at 2:04 into Partenza Dell Esercito (Out of the Roman Army). It makes an effort in emphasizing the melodrama of the plot. Hence it could possibly represent the protagonist’s struggles in the story (although there must be a lot in order to excuse the numerous appearances of the theme).  There are compelling performances of this theme in moments like the second half of La Carita di Aulo (The Charity of Aulo) and the majority of Incontro con Il Padre (Meeting with Father) that are noteworthy.

The final major theme shows up the least in the score, and it shall be known as the honour theme. It is a noble theme (usually played out on horns) that musically portrays a sense of duty and honour. It receives significant development especially in Morte di Tiberio (Death of Tiberius).

Much of the score is filled with sufficient harmonic beauty, but listeners will find that the latter half relies on a sense of dread and a slight sense of dissonance. After all, there is supposedly a sense of mystery in this series. In order to represent the threat of Vesuvius, Frisina assigns a blasting two note rhythmic motif that are usually backed up by a specific dissonant chord progression. The volcano motif debuts at 0:32 in Titoli Di Testa (Main Titles) and shows up in various moments such as La Cita Devastata (The City Devastated). In addition to the volcano motif, Frisina also assigns a specific motif for the concept of dread or panic. The dread motif is a motif that rises and descends in its structure. It’s quite effective in its purpose and is developed well especially well in cues like Ricordi di Tiberio (Memories of Tiberius).  This motif also receives more positive renditions in La Carita di Aulo (The Charity of Aulo) to represent perhaps the bonding unity during the times of chaos. Moreover, another secondary motif includes a rising trumpet figure to represent the Roman Army and is only present in snippets within the first few tracks (such as 3:40 Partenza Dell Esercito Romano).

While the main theme may be built with the kind of Roman flair that Rozsa infused so well into his own works, Frisina doesn’t do much else to emulate the music of the time period. Besides an attempt with harps and plucking strings in the first track between 1:14 – 1:42 and an inadequate attempt to mimic the music of Roman armies, only Festino Di Chlidone truly makes an effort to represent the music of the time of the series. There are no specialty instruments or big ethnic colours to decorate this score. Rather, Frisina builds his themes and music off of very melodramatic roots, which results in a very pleasant listen but a poor effort in terms of ethnic sensibilities.

That doesn’t go to say that Frisina doesn’t incorporate any colours in his score, for that would be a lie. As mentioned before, the beautiful use of the solo cello and the solo violin to play the main theme reaps stunning results. Valeria is solid proof of this. While woodwinds may not be surprising to listeners, the oboe solo rendition of the Pompei theme in Un Medico Cristiano (A Christian Doctor) and the beautiful flute solo of the main theme in the score’s finale are both noteworthy moments. However, a crucial element that will hit the listeners first is the solo female vocalist in the score. Her voice opens up the entire score from the beginning of the first track. Most often, the voice is utilized to sing the Pompei theme in order to create a more powerful heart breaking impact. This is evident in Sulla Riva Del Mare (By the River) that offers a stunning rendition of the Pompei theme that will certainly create an emotional impact. The vocalist also takes charge of the main theme at one point. Specifically at 3:12 in the same cue. The use of the vocals can be compared in some ways to John Debney’s excellent score for the video game Lair. Frisina utilizes this musical element to an excellent degree of effectiveness.

Unfortunately, this score isn’t exactly perfect. For instance, listeners may be turned away by the slow tempo of the composition at large. Rarely does it ever offer any action or moments of epic rhythmic force. There is one action cue in Terremoto e Battaglia (Earthquake and Battle), and while it may be enjoyable to a certain degree, even this action sounds rather half hearted. To add on, the staggering brass volcano motif, along with its chord progressions sounds rather lousy at times. Which brings one to another flaw. This score ultimately lacks scope. While the luscious themes will appeal to all listeners, this score never comes close to any of Rozsa’s epics in terms of scale, nor even the more recent epic of Agora for instance. It’s a shame really. Perhaps Frisina would have really benefitted from a larger orchestra to get a more expansive sound. While the emotional music is executed rather well, the fact that there is a small ensemble is evident when hearing the action material. The recording is also terrible considering the old, outdated fuzzy sound of the orchestra. Perhaps the budget was a major cause of these technical disappointments.

Regardless, here are 5 essential highlights from this score (ordered as presented on the album).

Muse on these:

1)   Titoli Di Testa (Main Titles)

An excellent main titles sequence that summarizes the major ideas of the score. From the volcano motif at 0:32, to the period music at 1:14 to the beautiful statements of the main theme from 1:43 onwards, this cue will entertain.

2)   Valeria

This track will essentially win you over with its beauty. The gorgeous combination of harp figures and the main theme on a solo cello will play out like a beautiful love theme to your ears.

3)   Morte di Tiberio (The Death of Tiberius)

The noble honour theme encompasses this piece. Its sense of nobility and the consistent touch of melodrama will make it a worthwhile addition to your collection.

4)   Sulla Riva del Mare (By the Sea)

The staggering strings chords along with the gorgeous Pompei theme sung by the solo female act as a beautiful elegy of mourning for the possible victims of the disaster. This will reach out for your emotions and continue to impress you with an absolutely marvelous solo violin performance of the main theme at 2:22. The piece builds to a great climax that proves this to be one of the best highlights of the score.

5)   Una Nouva Pompei (A New Pompei)

Opens up with powerful statements of the honour theme. The main theme then encompasses the majority of the rest of the score with even some lovely flute statements. The score finally ends with a magnificent crescendo at 2:24 of the main theme. A fitting conclusion to a great score!

In the end, the score will probably win you over with its beautiful main theme and its melodramatic tone. It may not be your picture of a score for an epic, but its beauty is a major selling point. Unfortunately, due to the lack of scope, listeners will not be able to hear a creative blend of ethnic colours as done in similar epics like Agora. The action music is also rather bland and the suspense music quite disappointing. Moreover, the lack of a larger ensemble and proper recording quality may seriously diminish the impact that Frisina may have been going for. However, one must approach this score knowing that this was a rather obscure project and hence the budget may not be as big as we’d like it. Regardless, Marco Frisina delivers a beautiful score that the masses have missed. Clearly this some solid evidence that the film score community has got to keep an eye on this composer.

Rating: * * * *


One Comment on “Pompei (Marco Frisina)”

  1. Thomas Allen says:

    Great review! As soon as I get my paycheck, I’m buying this! ;D

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