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Strike Up the Violins: It's Show Time!

New movie, TV-show soundtracks serve up tango and brassy marches

Movies and other mass-audience entertainments remain a rich source of music for the CD trade, including the musically savvy listeners served by the Sony Classical label.

While high-profile new releases provide much material for screen-inspired discs, not every exciting new release taps into current hits. One example is Nino Rota: Music for Film, which serves up timeless pieces from a brilliant composer whose tunes are familiar even to moviegoers who don't recognize his name.

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Rota earned fame in both Hollywood and Europe, where he worked with top filmmakers. Hollywood buffs will take pleasure in the CD's opening tracks from Francis Ford Coppola's first two "Godfather" pictures, including the popular "Love Theme" and atmosphere-evokers like "Sicilian Pastorale" and "The Immigrant."

Moviegoers with longer memories will recognize the circus-like textures of Rota's music for Federico Fellini's legendary "La Dolce Vita," and for Luchino Visconti's epics "Rocco and His Brothers" and "The Leopard," which is being reissued this year.

Striking a different note, tangos have been in vogue for the past couple of years, and Hollywood has capitalized on them. Independent filmmakers have also shown an interest, including English director Sally Potter, whose imaginative drama The Tango Lesson tells the offbeat tale of a frustrated filmmaker who studies with a tango teacher.

The soundtrack disc is as varied and unpredictable as the movie, swinging from gently tuneful airs to passionately emotional moods as elegantly as the dancers on the screen. The composers range from tango giants Carlos Gardel and Astor Piazzola to modern interpreters like Fred Frith and Potter herself.

Fans of vintage television can easily recall the theme that introduced each episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents": - Charles Gounod's sardonic "Funeral March of a Marionette," which set the right tone for Hitchcock's blend of the humorous and the macabre. Gounod's piece is one of the varied selections on Great Marches, a high-stepping CD proving that marches aren't just brassy pieces you play while tramping down Main Street on a national holiday.

That commonly held stereotype of marches is unfair to the great John Philip Sousa, who used the genre to create small but near-perfect gems; and it badly undervalues the range of illustrious composers who turned to the march format at some stage of their careers. In addition to Gounod's piece, this eclectic disc sprinkles Sousa's most famous works - including "Liberty Bell," the "Monty Python's Flying Circus" theme - among pieces from Beethoven to Richard Rodgers.

All are played in full symphonic arrangements by top-flight orchestras. Strike up the violins!

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