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Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Joel McNeely, 1999-2000.

Varese Sarabande VSD-6094 (CD, 2000, 50:41).
Joel McNeely here follows his modern re-recordings of Bernard Herrmann's The Trouble With Harry, Psycho, Vertigo and Torn Curtain and with the complete music from the last Alfred Hitchcock film actually released with a Herrmann score; Marnie (1964). The film is a psychological romantic crime drama starring Sean Connery and Tippi Hedron and it is hard to see it as anything other than a less successful attempt to replay the same tortured obsessions which drove Vertigo. Consequently, and regardless of Christopher Husted's assertion to the contrary in his otherwise excellent booklet notes, Herrmann wrote his score very much in the style of Vertigo. Certainly the orchestration was on a smaller scale, but otherwise this is music in the same genre, for a film from the very same idiosyncratic creative mind.

Neither Herrmann nor Hitchcock may have felt happy in adapting to the changing commercial climate of the time, but Hitchcock but attempted to adapt, compromised and declined creatively, whilst Herrmann continued exactly as he always had done, finding himself out of favour artistically until rediscovered in Europe and adopted by a new generation of American filmmakers. However, in all this difficult period he never sacrificed his personal artistic style. In this context Marnie really marks a transitional point; Hitchcock less than successfully retreating to the world of Vertigo, then attempting to join the Bond bandwagon with Torn Curtain, sacrificing Herrmann along the way. In such a fraught, tense situation it is a testament to Herrmann's creative integrity that Marnie is as strong a work as it is. However, I would not argue that this is an essential Herrmann score, simply because much of the material really is very familiar from previous work - perhaps the composer was not feeling sufficiently inspired to create something entirely new for Hitchcock by this point - yet for all that Marnie is still crafted with all Herrmann's impeccable taste and skill. As history would prove, Hitchcock needed Herrmann much more than Herrmann needed Hitch.

There are 41 tracks on this 50 minute album. The maths would suggest a rather fragmented listening experience, but happily many of the cues have been sequenced to flow on into the next, providing a very cohesive programme. The sometimes criticised Varèse Sarabande sound is here very good indeed, and the playing from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra first class. McNeely has Herrmann's measure well, and while inevitably he does some things differently to Herrmann - his tempos are a little quicker for one - that is entirely the point; this is a new recording, not a slavish clone of the soundtrack.

Propulsively driven by the romantic main theme, Herrmann keeps returning to the scene of the crime, unresolved figures repeated over and again establishing the neurotic, compulsive world of Marnie, an almost hallucinatory nightmare for Hitchcock's characters, a luxurious dream for the listener. 'The Hunt' is the undoubted highlight as far as major set-pieces are concerned, Herrmann being able to indulge his Anglophile nature with the opening horn calls, rapidly taking the cue in the direction of a vertiginous maelstrom. That said, the repetitive nature of the score makes this an album for the serious Herrmann aficionado; less serious fans may be satisfied with an extended suite, such as the one Herrmann himself recorded with the London Philharmonic and which is currently available in the UK on Music from Great Hitchcock Movie Thrillers. Finally I should note that Varèse Sarabande's presentation is excellent, with an evocative cover painting by regular artist Matthew Joseph Peak. Eloquent and elegant, dark romance has rarely been so gorgeous.

Prelude (mp3, 387K) :30
The Hunt (mp3, 382K) :30

Copyright © 2000 by Gary S. Dalkin / The Bernard Herrmann Society.
All rights reserved.

www.bernardherrmann.org / The Bernard Herrmann Society
International Society for the Appreciation of the Music of Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975)