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Bernard Herrmann: The Film Scores

Bernard Herrmann: The Film Scores

Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Sony SK 62700 (CD, 1996).
#1 by Elisabeth Endsley

The cover of this new cd release likely lets prospective buyers know what to expect when they listen to it. Salonen's name is printed on the top of the cover to the left and the name Bernard Herrmann is to the right in a slightly lower position. Salonen's picture (actually a very good-looking and intense young man) is on the front and Herrmann's picture is on the inside of the cover.

I would take an educated guess that this cd was released to not only bring Herrmann's music to a wider audience (perhaps hoping to include classical music lovers), but to help sell the upcoming L.A. Philharmonic benefit concert. I would not be surprised if the cds were on sale in the lobby on the night of the performance and it was a good marketing strategy to release the cd around the time of the concert. Salonen is known for his innovative choice of repertoire in the concert hall and is not afraid of the new and controversial. Most benefit concerts feature a world renowned concert artist and more standard concert hall fare. I find it fascinating and rather daring of Salonen to program a film music concert for sich a fete. But I'm not really surprised. Of course he will also perform Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" and has chosen selections of film music by the man who is my personal choice for the greatest film composer, and perhaps the best known to the general public. Still, and interesting choice of program for a benefit, one that might be more suited a Hollywood Bowl concert.

The finest work on the Salonen/Herrmann cd is indeed the Psycho suite, a taut and compelling performance. Those who want a reading that is exactly like the film soundtrack will probably not find this to their liking. Those who are willing to hear the music on its own terms in a powerful personal interpretation by Salonen, will not be disappointed. The performance is chilling and gave me goosebumps. The North by Northwest selection is definitely fast and furious, and Salonen's orchestra is more than up to his breakneck speed.

Salonen's Fahrenheit 451 stands up very well with McNeely's. Salonen's is precise and extremely well played. He, of course, has the advantage of being the music director of the orchestra he is conducting, thus having performed and recorded regularly with his ensemble. I find Salonen's approach to the music a bit more "precise/analytical", McNeeley's more "romantic/lyrical" (for lack of better terms). Actually, I like both and believe Herrmann's music is fine enough to warrant these different approaches.

The Torn Curtain selections are strong, intense, very well played and indeed a personal symphonic approach to this music that works on its own terms. Though I think Salonen's interpretation lacks the raw power and frenzied terror of Herrmann's original performance of the cues from the rejected score. Elmer Bernstein comes closer to capturing the ferocity needed for this music. This definitely should be put on cd. It is one of Elmer Bernstein's finest efforts in his FMC series.

The Marnie, Taxi Driver and The Man Who Knew Too Much selections are well done and certainly on a par with any performance recorded on other compilation cds.

The only selection I found rather disappointing was the music from Vertigo. I found Salonen's approach to the love music lacked the rhapsodic warmth and erotic vulnerability that it so badly needs. But then I'm extremely picky about this, as it's my "personal pet" score :-) McNeely's cd recording of the complete Vertigo is a wonderful and beautifully romantic performance of this great score. Certainly one of the great "if onlys" remains - if only Herrmann had recorded the soundtrack.

All in all, I think this cd is a very fine addition to anyone's collection, who not only loves Herrmann's music, but does not mind a reworking of it. It is a worthy contender in the Herrmann "compilation pack". Excellent playing by a first rank symphony orchestra, interesting interpretations by a young, dynamic, classically trained conductor, good sound and generous running time - over 76 minutes.

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#2 by Scott Minty

Being a Herrmann fan, and having all of the material found on this disc in one or many forms already, I approached this CD with a lot of trepidation. I have nothing against rerecordings, but did we need another version of bits from Psycho and Vertigo when there are so many other different recordings readily available?

One listen, however, and I loved what Salonen and the L.A. Phil had brought to Herrmann's music, agreeing with most all of Elizabeth's positive comments on this disc. The CD is generous, the playing very, very good and the material selection enjoyable, although predictable. The Psycho is particularly wonderful, if closer to the tempi of Herrmann's 1975 rerecording than the original film tracks. The 'overture' from North by Northwest, on the other hand, is played amazingly fast, emphasing the high-speed pace of the comedy/drama for which it was written, perhaps? Vertigo is a little 'cold' to my ears as well, yet I think the performance still works; the film has always struck me as having a definite coldness as well as heat and intensity. The portions from Marnie, Torn Curtain and Fahrenheit 451 are all wonderfully done as well.

Yes, the material is very well-known to any Herrmann fan and very familiar to any film music lover, but the performance and vitality of this recording make the CD a very worthwhile purchase.

I am really looking forward to the concert, even more so after listening to this CD, and hope, since it hasn't been mentioned as being included in the program, that an encore might include the fast-paced overture to North by Northwest.

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