Like a retirement Cadillac, the box set can sometimes just expose an artist’s vanity and bad taste. Though Ennio Morricone’s more than 300 movie scores have built him a hallowed, if slightly overrated, reputation, his new four-CD compilation, Io, Ennio Morricone, reveals a musician proud of and shockingly persistent in his shallowness. Don’t look here for the spunky cheesiness of Morricone’s early collaborations with Sergio Leone or the shimmering transcendentalism of his Days of Heaven score. Instead, Morricone has taken his most melancholic themes—for Once Upon a Time in America, Il Maestro e Margherita, and White Dog, among others—and bathetically rearranged them for flute, piano, violin, viola, and chamber orchestra as well as solo piano. These new scorings, spread across Io’s first disc and a half, strip the pieces down to their manipulative mitochondria, making you wish for a screen to look away from in embarrassment. The first cut, “Once Upon a Time in the West,” may rend your heart with overkill rubato and echoes of player-piano rolls and Shaker hymns, but by the fourth or fifth, Morricone’s all-ache-all-the-time formula has all the emotional impact of watching takeoffs at a regional airport. His best ideas are also shamelessly derivative: He changes in and out of Copland, Satie, Elgar, Debussy, Mozart, and a few pop composers like so many expensive suits. Somehow, he makes them all sound off-the-rack. (You know you’re in trouble, for example, when a perfectly Burt Bacharach melody not only wells up in “Disons, un Soir à Diner” from Metti, una Sera a Cena, but also sounds remarkably complex compared with what’s preceded it.) Even less rewarding are the final two-and-a-half discs of Morricone’s orchestral works, which pale next to his son Andrea’s more acerbic mélanges, a few of which are included here. This is 20th-century classical music as sonic gimmickery: the pre-curtain-call warmup dynamics in “Fluidi,” the pounded single piano note followed by a repeated, accelerating Debussian figure in “Studio n. 1/Etude n. 1.” Still, anyone who can write indistinguishable themes for films as disparate as Lolita and Cinema Paradiso certainly has a talent—though it might be for career management rather than for composition. —Robert Lalasz

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