Yes Patrick, I agree that LA SCONOSCIUTA offers a wider range of styles. For LA MIGLIORE OFFERTA, EM clearly decided to focus on strings, maybe to confer the score that genuine austerity I already hinted at. This is something many composers achieved by writing string quartets or quintets or say pieces for string ensembles, I mean the fact to relay on one single family of instruments. A pity the glass harmonica isn't featured more prominently. As for the eerie sound present in UNA PURA FORMALITA, I'd rather hold it as a waterphone because Ennio was crazy about it in the 90's (cf BUGSY, etc). If I'm not mistaken, he experienced the waterphone during a stay in the USA, was appealed by its sound and then accordingly used it in some of his scores.
About the strings, something I'm very fond of is the use of overtones, like in Il vuoto dentro or the opening bars of the 2d version of Volti e fantasmi. Since LA SCONOSCIUTA, Morricone has increasingly used this classy register. He for instance repeated it to mesmerizing effect in one of the Massimo Ranieri theater plays as well. The glass harmonica itself produces many overtones, so I'd assume this is a logical choice for the string section as well. I find it to be pure magic.
A somewhat slightly frustrating point regards for me the track Alta villa though. The glass harmonica tune is indeed superb and John Mansell is right when stating that "an exquisite cello solo closes the piece". But why oh why is this cello segment so short?! Whenever I'm playing this track, I'm expecting it to develop and it just stops so abruptly! I regret that the Maestro didn't expand it for the "album" purpose.
Did you notice the subtle MARCO POLO-like string strokes at ca 2'50 in the first version of Volti e fantasmi? This is a superb effect he already resorted to in LUCIA.
P.S.: sorry Micke for the repetition about the waterphone. We've been replying Patrick's question concomitently.