The recent interest in resurrecting some of Bernard Herrmann's wonderful music in the shape of re-issues of original tracks or in re-recordings means that at some point, a 'definitive' compilation was likely to appear. Silva Screen are always on the ball and so have put together this wonderful double CD set which highlights Herrmann's best work for motion pictures. While die hard Herrmann fans will no doubt quibble over performances and any nuance that isn't as it was on the original version, I was mightily impressed with the performances. I have been accused of being hyper critical of orchestral performance and so was expecting there to be lots of little complaints with this compilation, especially given the complexity of Herrmann's music but with only minor exceptions I was more than pleasantly surprised.
Herrmann is of course most famed for his work with Alfred Hitchcock and indeed all their most famous collaborations are here. North by Northwest is splendidly performed and the Conversation Piece sounds especially lovely. Marnie is a much sought after unreleased score and based on the prelude I can see why and makes a welcome addition. Psycho is performed well in a technical sense, but really doesn't have enough rare aggression behind it, even though it has more venom than Herrmann's re-recordings. Compared to the McNeely conducted rendition of the full score, this seems like a good effort, but nothing special. The prelude to Vertigo is taken a trifle fast for my liking, although it is performed very well otherwise as are the other two selections, especially the gorgeous Scene D'Amour. The Trouble with Harry is a joyful summation of the best parts of the score that Herrmann himself arranged and conducted earlier and this rendition certainly stands up well in comparison. The suite from Herrmann's rejected Torn Curtain score was, until very recently, the only available selection and indeed sounds very good here, with the thrilling prelude being a favourite. The Killing sounds especially intense with the pounding drums bouncing off the walls of the speakers.
Herrmann loved to used unusual orchestrations and this is no more apparent than in is fantasy work. The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad is my favourite of the overtures to Ray Harryhausen films and is given a very dynamic performance here that stands well compared to the original and John Debney's superlative rendition on the Varese re-recording. Jason and the Argonauts seems somewhat less impressive musically, but is suitably heroic and vigorous. Mysterious Island has some of the more unusual Herrmann moments, particularly with the muted brass for the Giant Bees which effortlessly capture the visuals as the music spirals uncontrollably. The Day the Earth Stood Still was a landmark film and score which started to preponderance for theremin in early science fiction scores. Outer Space and Farewell & Finale sound top notch, although perhaps Radar is performed a little slowly. A minor gem of a piece is the pastiche baroque overture from Three Worlds of Gulliver that sounds like very atypical Herrmann and is a hugely enjoyable couple of minutes and certainly more sprightly than other versions I've heard.
The remaining selections are no less impressive, musically or performance wise. Cape Fear makes a welcome appearance with it's grinding four note opening motif effortlessly conveying all the menace that was necessary. The Ghost and Mrs Muir is beautifully performed and is one of Herrmann's most romantic and haunting scores (ideal given the subject matter I suppose!). The openings from both discs are rarely performed preludes from The Man Who Knew Too Much and The Naked and the Dead both of which will hopefully receive releases or re-recordings sometime soon. However, my favourite of the unreleased scores is the selection from On Dangerous Ground which has a furious prelude that hammers itself into your unconscious and the excitable performance only enhances its impact. The other selections in the suite are no less impressive, let us hope that gets the recognition it deserves soon. The Valse Lente from Obsession is lovely, but so short that it doesn't make enough of an impact, which is a shame as the full score is one of Herrmann's best. The same could be said for the selection from Citizen Kane and I was surprised that a suite of music wasn't included. Rounding out the collection is the Nightpiece for Saxophone & Orchestra from Herrmann's last score, Taxi Driver. Although it still has the intensity, it sounds atypical Herrmann and is in a style that Herrmann was never able to fuller explore, but marks out his remarkable diversity as a composer.
Quibbles over choice of material are not quite so prevalent in this case as all the most famous scores are represented and if something was missed out, then it made way for something that is either rare or never released and thus makes the compilation buying if you already own many of the scores that are heard. If I had to pick things that are sadly missing, Fahrenheit 451, The Devil and Daniel Webster (Herrmann's only Oscar winning score) and Journey to the Centre of the Earth would be at the top of my list. Here's hoping that they appear in volume 2. Until then, highly recommended for Herrmann fans who want to hear some hard to find music and more particularly to novice Herrmann fans who want an excellent sampler from one of Hollywood's most iconoclastic and inventive composers.
Read other recent reviews by Tom Daish: The Snow Files: The Film Music of Mark Snow
, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad