Film Music Review
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Editor's Choice -

Best Of The Month

March 2011  



CITIZEN KANE - The Classic Film Scores of Bernard Herrmann

Featuring the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by
Charles Gerhardt. Original Producer: George Korngold. Mastering Engineer: Maria Triana. Recorded on June 11-13, 1974, at Kingsway Hall, London. Original LP album: ARL1-0707, released 1974. Art director: Roxanne Slimak. Design: Skouras Design.


What a great pleasure to welcome back these original recordings from the RCA series! They were first released on LPs back in the 1970s, then later on CDs. There are now 13 CDs in this series available on remastered CDs with improved sound. The late conductor Charles Gerhardt deserves much credit for his work on this excellent film music series.

See the 6 previous releases, named Best of the Month, November 2010.


1. The Death Hunt

2. Prelude; Xanadu; Snow Picture
3. Theme and Variations (Breakfast Montage)
4. Aria from Salammbo -- Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano
5. Rosebud and Finale

6. The Sea, The Lagoon
7. Descending
8. The Octopus; Homecoming

9. Concerto Macabre for Piano and Orchestra --
Joaquin Achucarro, piano

10. Talking Drums; Prelude; The Riverboat;
Petticoat Dance; The Safari
11. Tarantula; The Lion
12. Nocturne
13. Abduction of the Bakuba Boy; The Skulls
14. Lonni Bound By Ropes; Departure

RCA Red Seal/ Sony Masterworks 88697 81264 2

Rating: ****

It is difficult for me to be objective about this particular CD because I believe that CITIZEN KANE is the best film score from the past and Bernard Herrmann is the finest film composer as well.

I also believe that of all the CDs in this wonderful Classic Film Score series, this one with excerpts from Herrmann's film scores is the best one. It is especially worthwhile because Herrmann himself was present when the original recordings were made in 1974. He died one year later. This CD provides a very good testimony to Herrmann's early brillance before he worked on the Hitchcock films.

All of the films featured on the CD are from the twelve year period from 1941 to 1953. Two of them, ON DANGEROUS GROUND and HANGOVER SQUARE have only one track, but both of them are the very exciting cues. The opening "Death Hunt" is one of Herrmann's most energetic cues from any film.

The "Concerto Macabre" is another blazing (you'll get the pun if you've watched the film) piece of piano exuberance with dark touches of melancholy thrown in. The performance by Joaquin Achucarro is superbly nuanced between the strident chords heard at the beginning (thankfully not overplayed) and more flowing passages later on. This one movement piano concerto has become a concert staple and deservedly so. It is probably Herrmann's best concert piece.

The two adventure films have wonderfully unusual orchestral effects. For example, Herrmann uses nine harps in BENEATH THE 12-MILE REEF. His cue for "The Octopus" makes effective use of these harps. Head of 20th Century-Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck, wrote a memo to Alfred Newman, head of the music department, writing that this was,

"one of the most original scores I have ever heard. It really gave me a thrill."

Another unusual effect was created in WHITE WITCH DOCTOR for the "Tarantula" cue, using an ancient instrument appropriately known as "the serpent," used again in the score for JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. Both these adventure scores are fun to listen to as are the films themselves.

I have saved the best for last. It seems needless to say that Herrmann's CITIZEN KANE is monumental and one of the towering film scores from the past. Yet, if you were to ask most Herrmann fans, they would probably not rate this classic score at the top of their list. Why not? It has just about everything you could want to accompany such a groundbreaking film. Herrmann even wrote an original opera aria for several key scenes in the film. Orson Welles, who worked on the screenplay, acted in, and directed the film, has stated that he thought Herrmann's film score contributed greatly to the success of CITIZEN KANE. The suite heard on this CD is an excellent sampling of the key scenes in the film. One of the highpoints is the "Breakfast Montage" which consists of variations on a waltz theme, which get progressively darker as Charles Foster Kane ages and becomes more of a tyrant. All of this happens in just a few minutes in the film and Herrmann captures its essence perfectly. This is one of the greatest film music cues from a classic film.

The National Philharmonic Orchestra was organized by conductor Charles Gerhardt and Sidney Sax in 1970. So they were fairly new at it but you'd never know it from this excellent Herrmann compilation recorded in 1974.

I must add praise for the Mastering Engineer, Maria Triana, who has remastered these tracks from the original analog tapes. The former CD release (RCA 0707-2-RG) was in Dolby Surround and sounded a bit distant. This new CD release is much more up front and as good as you are likely to hear music recorded back in the 1970s.

The art design by Rosanne Slimak is very appealing with its muted colors highlighting the classic films from the past. The original LP liner notes are also included, expertly written by Christopher Palmer.

It is especially appropriate to have this CD come out on the 100th anniversary of Herrmann's birth and it is my distinct pleasure to name it as Best of the Month.

What more needs to be said except this CD is a must for any Herrmann or classic movie fan.

This CD belongs in every classic film lovers library.

Highest recommendation.

--Roger Hall, 30 March 2011


See also the Film In Focus No. 10: 70th anniversary of CITIZEN KANE

Other releases in the second section of this Classic Fim Scores series are...


ELIZABETH AND ESSEX - The Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold

composed and conducted by David Raksin


NOW VOYAGER - The Classic Film Scores of Max Steiner


SPELLBOUND - The Classic Film Scores of Miklos Rozsa


SUNSET BOULEVARD - The Classic film Scores of Franz Waxman


Classic Film Scores For Bette Davis


Bette Davis Sings! Click on this link:

"They're Either Too Young or Too Old" - A Centennial Tribute to Bette Davis




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