Best CD Release of the Month
I write here in praise of this new CD with two essential early Herrmann scores from the 1940s, and I urge you to read Steve Kennedy's review below to learn more about this marvelous Chandos release with informative notes by Gunther Kogebehn,
and high quality performances by the piano soloist. The vocal soloist on this CD is okay but I still prefer Kiri Te Kanawa's blazing singing with Charles Gerhardt conducting the National Philharmonic on the old RCA LP and CD.
It is with great pleasure that I select this excellent CD as Best of the Month.
Editor, Film Music Review
The Film Music of Bernard Herrmann:
CITIZEN KANE (1941) and
HANGOVER SQUARE (1945)
Music composed by Bernard Herrmann.
11 Tracks (Playing Time = 77:31)
Album produced by Brian Pidgeon and Mike George. HANGOVER SQUARE and CITIZEN KANE arranged from the original manuscripts by Stephen Hogger. “Concerto Macabre” 1992 performing edition by Norma Shepherd. Featuring soprano Orla Boylan; pianist Martin Roscoe, and the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Rumon Gamba.
Recorded at Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 24 & 25 March, and 14 July 2009. Recording engineered by Stephen Rinker. Music edited by Jonathan Cooper. Design by Cassidy Rayne Creative. CD booklet notes by Gunther Kogebehn.
While a couple of Herrmann original score discs appeared last summer, the flurry of Herrmann re-recordings has slowed down quite a bit. For the most part, much of Herrmann’s music is represented on CD with most of his final few scores waiting for re-issue or re-recording. Chandos now enters the world of Herrmann after a trip through much British and Russian film music and fabulous recordings of Korngold. This inaugural disc of what we can hope will bring more features Herrmann’s seminal great score CITIZEN KANE and music from HANGOVER SQUARE.
An early score that is one of the composer’s early horror noir styles was HANGOVER SQUARE. This 1945 Laird Cregar film relates the story of a pianist who gradually loses his grip on reality. The primary musical result takes place towards the end of the film as Cregar plays his piano concerto while the building burns around him and the orchestra flees. Roughly 17 minutes of music from the score has been arranged here by Stephen Hogger. Hogger returned to the original manuscripts to craft essentially a three-movement “suite” that combines cues in sequential order. There do not appear to be new-composed transitions within these tracks. Herrmann’s music here is a fascinating blend of noir-ish darkness with some of those wonderful staples of menacing horns and intriguing instrumental colors. A sort of heaving two-note motif appears in climaxes and in the murder sequences at times foreshadowing some of the composer’s more experimental sounds for 1950s sci-fi films like JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. But the music tends to hang close to a semi-Romantic style. The sense of the presentation of the earlier score music is that it comes to a calm ending in track three allowing the concerto to be presented as the climax of this portion of the disc.
The Concerto Macabre has appeared before most notably with a recording made by Charles Gerhardt with pianist Joaquin Achucarro. That recording ran close to twelve minutes and was put together by Herrmann as a concert piece. It appeared again more recently (1998) in a Naxos disc devoted to the many movie piano concertos that were popular during the 1940s from Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto to Rosza’s Spellbound Concerto and other memorable mini-concert pieces. Philip Fowke’s performance there was equally stunning. What makes this new recording slightly different is that it incorporates more of the source music from the original film score along with Herrmann’s own revisions for the concert hall piece. The edition was created in 1992 and appears to be receiving a world premiere recording here. Set against the opening score material, this version of the concerto is stunning. Martin Roscoe is featured here in a fantastic spot-on performance that begins with great power and energy before all descends into madness with just the final bars of solo piano to round off this piece.
Stephen Hogger also created the “arrangement” of cues for the presentation of Herrmann’s CITIZEN KANE (1941) which takes up 49 minutes of playing time. An amazing early masterpiece of cinema and film music, this new recording includes a few cues (“Thanks,” “New Hornpipe,” “Collecting Statues”) than appeared in a re-recording first appearing on John Lasher’s Fifth Continent label. (You will likely want to still hang on to that release as most cues were given individual tracks.) Chandos’ release is again presented over seven tracks with cues identified within each track. This allows the score to feel a bit more connected in some way though there is enough pause to help follow the specific musical segment from the score.
The most striking thing here are the superb performances that seem to capture Herrmann’s style so well. The “Galop” is performed at quite a clip with perfect precision. The rich recording captures the orchestra well and warms it up. What is also fascinating is the way comical elements of the score seem so much closer to their Shostakovich-ian film counterparts from this same period. Herrmann’s style is so far removed from that composer but the wind writing and musical ideas that appear in track 6 relating include the hornpipe, “Carter’s Exit,” and “Chronicle Exit” that culminate in “Bernstein’s Presto” that definitely have roots in contemporary musical style of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich. It is this stylistic parallel coupled with signs of Herrmann’s own musical sound that makes this score so amazing to hear with so much of what we would hear further explored in further scores appearing in germinal form here.
With HANGOVER SQUARE opening this CD, Chandos has managed to allow listeners a great introduction to Herrmann’s signature sound. CITIZEN KANE can then be heard as a sort of testing ground within a safer musical sound that feels more British than Hollywood at times. Still you can hear Herrmann’s signature brass combinations even in this earlier score. Thematic fragmentation and development is another hallmark of a score that eschews typical big Hollywood thematic moments (listen to the waltz that appears in track seven which always restrains itself from bombast). The biggest traditional musical sound turns out to be its most parodistic, “Salammbo’s Aria.” This faux opera aria receives its own track in a performance by Orla Boylan with text included.
The BBC Philharmonic does a fantastic job of playing through these scores under the direction of Rumon Gamba. The timings of the music here are fairly close to those on the Tony Bremner recording of CITIZEN KANE and in the excerpts included on Gerhardt's old RCA Herrmann compilation.
This is a remarkable release of music making. The booklet includes plenty of photo stills and some notes that appear to be fairly standard commentary for both scores.
Unfortunately there is no discussion of Hogger’s arrangement approach or other more pertinent information regarding how these orchestrations were arrived at which is frustrating. The music definitely sounds like Herrmann’s orchestrations (he did his own for both films) without any meddling so one might assume that Hogger’s contribution was in preparing the music for performance. It’s a small quibble on the surface but knowing about the orchestration and arrangement of this music is very important to the fans of the composer. Still, this is yet another essential film music release worthy of everyone’s attention.
With any luck, Gamba will be returning soon to mine the depths of Herrmann’s music.
--reviewed by Steven A. Kennedy , 3 March 2010
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