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Review
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad



The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Joel McNeely.

Varese Sarabande VSD-5961 (CD, 1998).
This is another essay in fantasy-exotica. Herrmann must have loved it. Not only did he warm to the commission he also saw an opportunity to use themes from his concert piece The City of Brass and other music written for radio on subjects related to Arabia and the Thousand and One Nights. Sheherazade and Antar are never far away.

Almost an hour of music launches out at us with a crashing violence. This soon gives way to an uncannily real evocation of the steady rise and fall of spectral oars in the mist rather like Rachmaninov's Isle Of The Dead. The Princess (3) is allocated a lissom high string theme - sinuous and coolly sensuous. At the Stone Gate (4) a mysterious piano and percussion intone a version of the Telescopes music from his score for The Day the Earth Stood Still. The Cyclops (5) is allocated a gritty ferociously gravelly brass bark. This is very patterned alternating with ticking and finally exploding into bell-crazed panic.

Bagdad was recorded by a Herrmann for Decca with the National Philharmonic. It is done here with equal zest and local colour. Herrmann must surely have known Holst's Beni Mora! An Eastern dance melts into a strange cold romance and returns to the Princess's theme which whispered at a high pianissimo. There is a touch of the Adagio from Khachaturian's Spartakus. This has much in common with The Pool (12) with slightly inhuman sensuality suggesting some disturbing and seductive female-feline.

The Sultan's Feast (8) is bounced along with a manic oompah beat and lightning strikes from the strings until the proceedings are interrupted by a gong. The Cobra Dance of track 10 has a vigorous quick pulse leading to a long-limbed epic soldiers' march for The Prophecy (11).

Track 13 seems to offer a window opened from Arabia to Finland: Sibelius on a frosty evening alternating with the starry Arabian night. The strings spin their theme high with a suave smoothness which is a tribute to the RSNO players. The Tiny Princess (14) uses brass fanfares of a tough and steely grandeur. This prepares the ground for a fight with the clashing of giant metallic sheets, tambourine, gong and wood blocks. In The Skull (18) muted sour trumpets and deep brass give the impression of precipitous heights and chasmal depths.

The Capture (20) has the sea crashing below as a hard fanfare scrapes the firmament with molybdenum talons. The next tracks (21 and 22 - encounters with the Cyclops) resort to rasping brass, a hard echoing bell tone and a non- resonating stopped tubular bell. The Cliffs suggest romance over the contrast of harder tones and soft strings singing a long "Arabian Nights" theme and harp brushes add a wilder depth to the picture.

The Egg (24) produces sounds as clear as a bell and evocative of exotic and beetling heights. After all this, Track 25 is a blessedly Rimskian tone poem using the high strings. The Genie's Home (26) is all glittering gems and semi- gamelan music played at whisper level. This may well have been one of the well- springs for Philip Glass's minimalism. The picture ends with a feather-weight touch on the tam-tam.

Track 27 returns to high drama and the Fight with the Roc. Trumpets clash, high woodwind screeches and deep brass provide at least two levels of vertical perspective. The Nest (28) has a sour meandering darkness and only the plucking of the harp lights up the night sky dissolving into a trembling palimpsest of the pianissimo string tone.

The dragon is portrayed with deep growling brass and quiet piano. Tuba and trombone give the blackest rasping edge to the poem. Timpani battle and hammer it out into a gruff snarl from the brass.

Transformation is another sinuous theme half unfolded. The Skeleton (31) suggests the deep purring of cat as well as a tension and sense of imminent threat. The Duel With The Skeleton sounds at least half jocular with clinking xylophone, clip-clopping wood blocks and a hectic brass death hunt.

The sword (33) is pictured via drum, tam-tam and trumpet. The echoing drums reminded me of the opening pages of Havergal Brian's Gothic Symphony. Herrmann would have known or known of this work. Dragon and Cyclops are punched out with clean-cut brass and the subterranean growling of the contrabassoon.

In The Crossbow (35) a heavy war beat is asserted like a great march similar to Poledouris's Crom music from Conan. Piano and anvil add an edge of Mussorgskian colour. The Death of the Dragon is hammered forward with bright sparks and slammed gunshots from the percussion.

The finale (37) has a relaxing exoticism whose beguiling line is rather like the music from Delius's Hassan and the restful episodes in Holst's Beni Mora. This returns to the Katchaturian-like Spartakus music in its fullest statement so far. The Casbah (Bagdad) music returns the jolly "oompah" music of the richly- scented streets of Bagdad.

John Debney directs the top-line orchestra with snappily tight rhythmic control throughout. The music benefits enormously from this. I cannot imagine anyone being disappointed with this luxuriously splendid album. I only wish that Christopher Palmer who did so much to promote Herrmann's music had been here to enjoy this music with us. Next can someone please offer us the concert and radio music? There are a couple of violin concertos and The City of Brass amongst much else.

Meantime order this classic album and bathe in the irresistible light and dark of a Herrmann score which offers a magically tactile carpet ride to Samarkand and back.


Audio Excerpts: Overture (ra, 83K) | The Capture (ra, 88K).


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