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Review
Psycho (1)



Psycho

Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Joel McNeely.

Varese Sarabande VSD-5765 (CD, 1997).
Varese Sarabande has inaugurated a new series of "Film Classics" re-recordings with a recording of "The Complete Original Motion Picture Score" (as the cover says) of Bernard Herrmann's Psycho, featuring Joel McNeely conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. McNeely and the RSNO previously recorded an album of music from Vertigo (VSD-5600) and upcoming is a recording of Herrmann's Citizen Kane.

Do we need another Psycho? As the album's liner notes point out, this is not the first recording of the score by any means, and Herrmann himself recorded a suite from the film for London Records and a disappointingly sluggish album of the score with the National Philharmonic Orchestra, available on Unicorn-Kanchana Records (UKCD 2021). Fans of the score have long awaited either a re-recording at the proper speed or the release of the original tracks. The recent bootleg (Soundstage Records 585) taken, from some distance that is, from the original tracks is of relatively poor sound quality and disappointing if not unlistenable.

For me, Psycho is probably the best example of the melding of film images and music that fit seamlessly together, with both individual elements elevating the other miles beyond the standard fare of the time. Although arguably not Herrmann's greatest music, it is his score that, for me, best fits the film for which it was composed. For this alone, the score for Psycho is worth resurrecting again... if done right.

The new Varese CD definitely gets it right. McNeely's recording boasts not only the main title performed at the proper speed, but also one complete cue and a bit of another that are 'world premieres': written by Herrmann for the film, but unused in the final print. For me, these factors alone would make the disc a worthwhile purchase. Like Varese's re-recorded Vertigo disc, the goal here was not replicating the music exactly as presented in the final print of the film, but to present Herrmann's original intentions. The liner notes state that the "McNeely recording includes every note of all forty cues composed by Herrmann for the film." In addition, the Varese recording sounds great, much fuller than the thin sounding Unicorn CD. The producers have wisely chosen to present each cue as a stand alone track, rather than seguing or fading from one to the other. The 40 track CD clocks in at a generous 61:09. The accompanying 12 page booklet features well written liner notes by Kevin Mulhall and photos and artwork by Matthew Peak.

I would recommend this CD to any film music lover, even if they have one or all of the various previous incarnations of the Psycho score; if they have no others, than this is the one to own. Bravo to Varese, McNeely and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra for getting it right.

Is there room for more? If someone would issue the original music tracks from the film in proper sound quality, I would certainly buy the CD...but more often than not I would probably end up listening to the McNeely disc.

One final note: the use of the 'murder music' just prior to the cue Discovery at the film's climax is missing here as it was on the Unicorn CD. The liner notes report that Herrmann didn't originally intend to use that music again at this point in the film, hence the omission. If you listen closely to the original Unicorn LP of Herrmann's recording with the NPO, you can here that the 'murder music' was rather crudely edited in from another portion of the recording.


A second review by Kurt Luchs is also available.




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International Society for the Appreciation of the Music of Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975)