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Herrmann, B.: Film Music

Herrmann, B.: Film Music

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Chandos once again notch up a lavish production in every single aspect.

This is a very generously timed and magnificently performed and recorded disc. It’s a red letter event for the Herrmann literature.

The last few years have been exciting ones for Herrmann fans. Sad to say this has not involved a new recording of the opera Wuthering Heights; nor even a reissue of the rather one-dimensional sounding Unicorn Souvenir set (UKCD2050-52). However the following pallet-full is not to be sniffed at. Decca Eloquence (Australia) will reissue Herrmann conducting The Planets with the LPO (1970). Tribute’s Rolls Royce revivals look likely to include a new and typically resplendent Stromberg-Moscow collaboration though no one is saying which score yet. Andrew Rose’s Pristine are resurrecting what I fervently hope will be the first of a series of radio acetate transcriptions of Herrmann’s CBS Symphony Orchestra years. From 1945 they have Handel: Water Music Suite (arr. Harty); Vaughan Williams Oboe Concerto and Elgar Falstaff caught on Sunday 9 September 1945 PASC202. From the Prometheus label The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad is conducted by “Kurt Graunke and his orchestra” in 1958. It’s a 2 CD issue with the complete original score in mono mixed with the album stereo cues and the original soundtrack album. By report it’s suspected to be conducted by Herrmann with a pickup orchestra in Shepperton although Kurt Graunke certainly existed. There’s also a rare Twisted Nerve/The Bride Wore Black from Bruce Kimmel’s Kritzerland label. It includes The Twisted Nerve LP and The Bride Wore Black 45 rpm on CD – rare items both. The CD runs 28 minutes and is limited to 1200 copies. Now if only Varese-Sarabande could be persuaded to issue a boxed set of their often inspired RSNO/McNeely/Debney re-recordings of scores such as Marnie, Sinbad, Trouble With Harry, Vertigo and The Day The Earth Stood Still. Perhaps Eloquence will follow up their Planets with a reissue of the three Phase Four Film Spectaculars that Herrmann made with the National Phil in the 1970s.

The present Chandos issue is a compelling purchase for Herrmann fans and even for neophytes. It’s recorded with aching clarity and the music-making has a vibrant feel for the idiom. That’s typical of Gamba who taps direct into the fleshy, decaying, sinister, nocturnal, romantic milieu that bridges these two scores.

In much the same way as Chandos and Gamba have made their two Korngold discs compulsory acquisitions so the Herrmann constituency will have to have this one. It’s the first revival of the Hangover Square music as arranged by Stephen Hogger. You may know his name already as he has done so much work for the RVW film score revivals on Chandos. I know about the 1972 revival of Concerto Macabre by Joaquin Achucarro on that iconic Herrmann RCA Classic Film Scores collection (now available from Archiv Music). Others, apart from Achucarro, also recorded the Concerto as part of various film music piano concerto medleys. The Concerto appears here in a new edition which we are told incorporates the composer’s revisions for concert performance. It’s a Lisztian effusion from the same left-field as Totentanz but blended with the lichen and fog so gloriously typical of Herrmann. The marriage of Herrmann’s music-melodrama with the Laird Cregar/Linda Darnell film is made in heaven – or possibly somewhere hotter. In any event it’s a totally apt alliance and the music rewards attention. If the Concerto and the Hogger sequence overlap the listener will not feel cheated. It’s all classic Herrmann and you are hearing music not heard before or at least not in this form. Even in the film music sequence the piano plays a prominent part rather as it does in Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances.

Citizen Kane was Herrmann’s first cinema partnership with Orson Welles. It’s a revered film with many starkly imaginative images which are intensified by Herrmann’s music. The extended score here is way beyond the compact suite featured on the RCA Classic series as master-minded by Charles Gerhardt/George Korngold. It has been recorded before, though not with such Manchester immediacy and allure, by Label X/Prometheus and by Varese-Sarabande (RSNO/McNeely).

The score is very varied. Wild frilly frivolous galops - not a stone’s throw from Offenbach - jostle with romps glaring with Prokofiev-like psychological subtext. Music of piercing regret is heard alongside Romeo and Juliet-inflected (could Herrmann have known the ballet at that time?) poignancy. As illustration take the irresistibly gentle Kane Meets Susan (tr. 8). There’s even some Weill-style sleaze (tr. 11). There’s also that grand operatic aria (complete with full words and translation in the booklet) in which Orla Boylan delivers the goods in a way that Kane’s poor Susan never could. That aria transcends the cod-Grand Siècle idiom and has one wishing that Herrmann had had the luxury of time to write a full opera in this unblushing uber-Lakmé toxic-exotic idiom. It’s clearly the sort of flamboyance that might have featured in Act I of Phantom of the Opera. Boylan puts up a completely credible and ripely enjoyable challenge to the young and unspoilt Kiri Te Kanawa in the aria as recorded by Gerhardt back in 1972.

Chandos once again notch up a lavish production in every single aspect.

-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International

Hopefully this will be the first disc in an extended Herrmann project--even if the results aren't quite perfect, they're still very fine. Citizen Kane has been recorded several times, of course, most notably by Joel McNeely and the Scottish National Orchestra (O/P), but this edition gives us basically all of the same music (it runs for nearly fifty minutes), very well played, and in excellent sound. In the fake aria, Orla Boylan is no match for Kiri Te Kanawa on Charles Gerhardt's sumptuous Herrmann collection, but otherwise there's very little to take issue with here.

While Herrmann fans will be delighted to have an extended chunk of his music from "film noir" Hangover Square (some 18 minutes' worth), it would be idle to pretend that the bits that he did not use to create the Concerto Macabre represent him at his best. The music is mostly dark, lugubrious, muted, and obstinately unmemorable (after the flashy opening), nor do the various brief cues string together all that convincingly for continuous listening. The Concerto, though, is definitely entertaining, and very well performed by Martin Roscoe. It will be fun to see how this series (if it is one) develops.

--David Hurwitz,
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Product Description:

  • Release Date: February 23, 2010

  • UPC: 095115157725

  • Catalog Number: CHAN 10577

  • Label: Chandos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: 2010-02-23

  • Composer: Bernard Herrmann

  • Conductor: Rumon Gamba

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

  • Performer: Martin Roscoe, Orla Boylan