Film Music Review
The Sammy awards







Music composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann

12 Tracks (Total Playing Time = 42:30)


Album Supervisor: David Wishart.
Art Director and Consultant: Richard Green.
Digital Editing and EQ Engineer: Gus Shaw.

Silva Screen Records SILCD 1256

Rating: ***1/2

It seems rather strange to have this soundtrack released twice within only a few months. The main difference is that one is a restoration and the other is the original soundtrack recording.

The restoration recording on Tribute Film Classic includes the complete soundtrack for MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, performed by The Moscow Symphony Orchestra and conducted by William Stromberg. That is a brilliant recording containing well over an hour of superb sounding music and was desingated Best of the Month for December 2007.

This Digitally Mastered Silva CD contains only a little over forty minutes. As David Wishart explains in his concise and helpful CD notes, some of the original masters were missing and could not be found, including the one for the "Giant Bee" cue. But this is the first release using the original stereo masters. MYSTERIOUS ISLAND had been previously released as a monaural soundtrack.

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND is a film filled with stunning visual effects by the grand master himself, Ray Harryhausen. And one can safely say it also filled with some of the most stunning musical "effects" in any fantsy film. Herrmann was a master of mixing high and low orchestral colors (such as high strings and harps with low woodwinds), dynamic changes between soft and loud, and fast and slow tempi. In short, Herrmann was probably film music's greatest film music master. His scores are unique in their ability to enhance a film, often they are of equal importance with the dialogue itself.

Both THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959) should be considered as models for the impressive flourishes found in MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, since many of the same orchestral colors are employed, including brass and low woodwind combinations, and in this case the use of 8 horns. The orchestra itself is huge.

John Morgan, in his notes to last year's superb restoration of this score, mentions that MYSTERIOUS ISLAND is his favorite Ray Harryhausen film and favorite fantasy Bernard Herrmann score. That may be the case with many fantasy film fans as well. I know I would place this hugely enjoyable film score near the top of my list., even though the film is not the most logical or best treatment of a Jules Verne story.

The opening "Prelude" (1:26) on the Silva CD soundtrack still gives me chills of joy when I hear it. It is considerably faster than the "Prelude" (2:00) on the more impressive sounding one conducted by Herrmann for the 1975 Decca LP (later reissued on a London Phase 4 CD: MUSIC FROM GREAT FILM CLASSICS).


On the Silva CD the longest track is "Escape To The Clouds" (track 4, 7:58), which is the most impressive cue of the entire soundtrack with its theme for the balloon journey, as David Wishart describes it:

"A grim ostinato beat bolsters a relentess rolling figure for strings which, like the ceaseless turbulence, carries the balloon ever westward over smashed cities and forests torn up by their roots. Magnificent, magisterial chords evoke the vast passing of clouds before the storm again gathers momentum, gripping all toward an angry sea. "

This magnificent cue is divided into six separate tracks on the Tribute Film Classics CD of MYSTERIOUS ISLAND.

But there is much to recommend on the original soundtrack now available on Silva. It includes the original stereo masters for the first time and contains many of the best cues from the film itself. Also, there is a nice 12 page booklet with extensive notes by David Wishart and many illustrations from the film in color and black & white.

Yet if I had to choose just one CD version of this great Herrmann score, I would choose the Tribute Film Classics CD.

Herrmann's conducting slowed down greatly over the years, so the Silva Screen CD release of MYSTERIOUS ISLAND will give an example of his more vigorous conducting in the early 1960s.

This soundtrack is worth having if you want the abridged original soundtrack in very good, though not always ideal sound and performance.

It is a recording conducted by this most innovativbe of all past film composers.

--Roger Hall, 7 March 2008


And another opinion...

Rating: ****

Coming on the heels of the Stomberg/Morgan re-recording of MYSTERIOUS ISLAND is this Silva release featuring the original soundtrack recording under the composer. For fans of the great Harryhausen films of the 1950s and 1960s this will be a must have release. The disc is accompanied by an extended booklet filled with photos and a track by track plot description to jog your memory written by film music historian David Wishart. But this reissue allows us to hear the score taken from stereo masters of the recording sessions (the original film was released in mono). What this means for the aural experience is an amazingly detailed recording that clears away some of the mud from the bottom. The experiments made in exploring stereo recording can also be heard in antiphonal effects created by recording parts of the orchestra in separate channels. It makes for a thrilling listening experience.

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND features all the standard Herrmann fingerprints: low string motifs, large colorful chord progressions paired at low and high dynamic alternations, and brilliant orchestration. Given that the masters are now over 30 years old, the sound quality is still rather remarkable with little noticeable deterioration in this careful digital re-mastering. It is not a matter though of choosing between the re-recording and this release since there were two reels of music missing from these sessions. So the “Giant Bee” sequence is absent on the original release among many other smaller cues. Having the composer’s own take on this music though is remarkable. More things happen in a minute of this score than in an entire hour of most contemporary film music.

Easily recommended to lovers of great film music.

--Steven A. Kennedy, 5 March 2008

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