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Review
Vertigo



Vertigo

Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Joel McNeely.

Varese Sarabande VSD-5600 (CD, 1996).
Herrmann's classic Hitchcock collaboration is resurrected in spectacular fashion by McNeely and the Scottish National Orchestra with a huge, heavy sound that's the most 'Herrmannesque' I've heard from anyone since Charles Gerhardt.

McNeely reproduces the entire fifty-two minute score here, including several cues not on the Muir Mathieson-conducted Mercury LP, like the eerie meeting in the redwood forest with its chill-inducing pipe organ chords and the striking rescue of the Kim Novak character from an apparent suicide attempt under the Golden Gate Bridge.

The rest of the score is indelible:

the swirling kaleidoscope of repeating figures over surging brass that played over Saul Bass' hypnotic titles and segue into the churning strings and terrifying brass shock chords of the opening rooftop chase;

the disturbing, subtle Spanish rhythms underscoring the painting of Carlotta and James Stewart's early stalking of Kim Novak;

the rumbling, cascading strings that tumble into the wicked tarantella dance of Stewart's nightmare,

and the love theme that builds in obsessiveness to the rhapsodic 'Scene d'Amour'.
Mathieson conducted the actual film score and the album and apparently did neither to Herrmann's specifications; McNeely's album is an attempt to recreate the score as Herrmann intended it, working off his original conducting notations, so there are evident differences in some of the rhythms and accents (particularly in the more sweeping statements of the love theme) that some may find nettlesome.

McNeely was after authenticity, however, and in this case considered Herrmann's original conducting notations to be the most valid source for guidance in reconstructing the work:
"We were doing the opening and it seemed awfully fast by Herrmann's instructions,"
McNeely recalled when asked about the difference in the score's timings.
"I considered changing it for a while and then I said, no, this is the way he intended it and this is how it's got to be. The opening figures are in a very specific time, like a pulse."
The obsessive nature of the Stewart character is vividly illustrated by the music: the frightening rooftop chase music recurs several times as Stewart is haunted by nightmares and flashbacks of the incident, and Herrmann's indelible brass shock chords bring a highly unnerving quality to Hitchcock's novel technique of zooming and dolleying his camera backwards at the same time to achieve a visual interpretation of Stewart's attacks of vertigo; even the shrieking three-note string figure that punctuates the tarantella 'nightmare' sequence (a precursor to the infamous Psycho murder music) recurs later in a romantic guise against the love theme to inextricably tie together Stewart's obsessive love with his crippling phobias.

While the Mathieson album and Herrmann's suite arrangements reduced the Vertigo score to a collection of memorable set pieces, McNeely's rendition restores the immense narrative power of the work as it chronicles one man's undoing at the hands of his own obsessions.


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