Herrmann's first collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock was not really typical of either of their output. The film was a dead pan black comedy where the trouble with Harry was that he was dead. The music is some of Herrmann's more sublime and pastoral. There are no very tense thriller moments and not much action and so the music is mostly dialogue underscore, however that is not to say it's dull, this is Bernard Herrmann after all. The four note opening motif is almost like a comic version of the motif he created for Cape Fear. As with much of Herrmann's work, the orchestra doesn't tend to function as a whole most of the time. There is a large focus on small woodwind groups, mostly the oboe and clarinet from what I can make out. It tends to bounce around in a suitably comedic manner, but there is the occasional dramatic moment such as in the Doctor's Return. Conversely, the material associated with the doctor is a sprightly, but light gallop played on the strings which gives a nice lift to the pace of the score.
With such short tracks, it's difficult to cite any set piece cues, but then this isn't the kind of film which lend itself to set pieces as such, but each cue blends nicely into the next and the overall pastoral mood is never disrupted greatly by over dramatic or annoy over comedic music. It seems that in an age when comedic music is either way over the top or annoyingly sentimental then Herrmann's music comes as pleasantly gentle and beautifully wrought. The comedy parts I suppose might be deemed a little too melodramatic, but without much irony, especially the low end final note of the opening four note phrase which is perhaps a little over done. The one advantage to younger fans is that McNeely makes the music sound as fresh and not over exagurated, that it's a positive pleasure to listen to.
Whereas some of the other re-recordings on Varese perhaps didn't suit the recording style of the RSNO as well as they might, especially if trying to capture the spirit of the original recording, the gentle nature of this score really does. All the instrument voices are very clear and the detail is superb with McNeely doing yet another sterling job of producing a wonderfully warm and rich sound, which for this kind of score is ideal really. I can thorougly recommend it, although purists will be arguing until hell freezes over as to the merits of the re-recording, for someone like me who doesn't like crackly old recordings, it's a positive godsend and well worth anyone's money.