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Citizen Kane: The Classic Film Scores of Bernard Herrmann
  • Composed by Bernard Herrmann
  • RCA / 2011 / 51:58

Charles Gerhardt’s “Classic Film Scores” series, released through the 1970s, is one of the landmarks of film music.  Working in London with the National Philharmonic Orchestra (which had been formed by the conductor, with violinist Sidney Sax), Gerhardt put some great film music out there – it’s easy in these times of plenty to forget just how little of the stuff, even the really great stuff, was actually available in the past.  This Bernard Herrmann collection, released on LP in 1974 and then later on CD, has now been reissued by RCA in glorious sound.  It’s interesting that it doesn’t contain any of the composer’s famous music for Alfred Hitchcock – this was, after all, available on other collections – but instead focuses on some Herrmann music which may have been lesser-known but is no less good.  Opening with the barnstorming, incredible “Death Hunt” from On Dangerous Ground, the album could hardly get off to a better start.  This is the sound that most people associate with Bernard Herrmann – portentous, arresting, grandiose, terribly exciting.  I’ve always felt that Citizen Kane, great though it is, is a score that works much better in suite form, and Gerhardt’s suite would take some beating, including all the score’s highlights, including of course the “Aria from Salammbo”, performed by the legendary Kiri Te Kanawa.  Three cues from the evocative, beautiful-but-murky Beneath the 12-Mile Reef follow – these show off the composer’s creative side, with the unorthodox ensemble creating music simply perfect for this film.

Charles Gerhardt

The twelve-minute “Concerto Macabre” from Hangover Square is given a rapturous performance by Joaquín Achúcarro; the piece is pivotal to the film and loses none of its power away from it.  It boasts an intensity notable even by Bernard Herrmann standards.  The wonderful album concludes with a lengthy suite from White Witch Doctor, somewhat “conventional” compared with many of this composer’s scores – still very enjoyable.  Lots of percussion and brass are featured in the music, written for Henry Hathaway’s old-fashioned 1953 African-set adventure film.  Herrmann is able to paint with such vivid colour; it’s stirring stuff.

This is a brilliant album, there’s no question about it – showing off some of the composer’s finest material without a note of Psycho or Vertigo or North by Northwest (or for that matter The Ghost and Mrs Muir or any of the Ray Harryhausen scores or… you get the point).  It’s great music, going some way to showing just how much more there is to this composer than the Hitchcock scores and the other famous ones I mentioned.  The performance, the recording – everything is spot-on.  I’d say these Gerhardt releases are pretty much essential purchases for those interested in older film music – they make great introductions to the music of the featured composers but they’re just as good for long-established fans, offering dynamic sonics that the original recordings frequently can’t.  *****

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  1. Erik Woods (Reply) on Tuesday 12 April, 2011 at 18:14

    Excellent review. The one thing that bothers me about these new releases is the fact that recording engineer K.E. Wilkinson’s name is no where to be found in the liner notes. For a series of CD’s the boast the finest example of audiofile sound is boogles the mind that Wilkinson was completely forgotten.

  2. Tim Burden (Reply) on Wednesday 20 April, 2011 at 08:56

    I know Erik, it’s a shambles! Credit, where credit is due.

    This could perhaps be the reason why Sony decided to pull the releases from their planned UK release, as i’m sure we weren’t the only people to notice the major oversight.

  3. Tim Burden (Reply) on Wednesday 20 April, 2011 at 09:06

    Looking forward to your Rozsa review, James. That album was always my favourite, particularly for its glorious The Red House suite!