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Serial number
302 066 091 2

Artwork copyright (c) 2000 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall


Excellent dramatic music - but on CD?

Bernard Herrmann is the most-revered film composer of all time, being one of only two (the other being Erich Wolfgang Korngold) who is actually taken seriously by classical music purists. In the eyes of most film music fans, everything that Herrmann touched was gold: he could simply do no wrong. To criticise Herrmann is to be seen to be unintelligent. I must admit, I am far less enamoured by his body of work than most observers.

Jerry Goldsmith recently courted controversy by claiming that while Herrmann was a superb film composer, he was not a particularly good composer, and I must admit that I am beginning to wonder this myself. All too frequently, it would seem, what stuck like glue to the film for which it was written simply cannot hold the interest on CD. Occasionally, it seems that Herrmann's music could be accused of being style over substance: that in some scores, he masked any real musical ideas by simply having the music played by some wacky ensemble.

While Anna and the King of Siam is performed by a traditional orchestra, I must admit that I do not particularly see its appeal. Cues end before they have begun; there are no especially memorable themes, or interesting orchestration, or particular musical development from cue to cue. Instead, the music simply sits as a backdrop to the film, fulfilling its task admirably, but not doing much for this listener away from the film.

There are, of course, exceptions: the prelude is bold and exciting, "Pandemonium" at last introduces some more interesting orchestration (though it is only a few seconds long) and there are a handful of other standouts. But most of the music is played at the same pace, by the same instrumentalists, seemingly without actually having anything to say. The music is, by and large, very stark and cold, very distant, and invites no real emotional connection of any description.

While I realise that Herrmann is, to many people, pretty much up there with God, I was really rather disappointed by Anna and the King of Siam. As mentioned above, there are a few definite highlights, but all things considered I found the score to be really very boring. I imagine that I shall have to duck for cover to avoid the inevitable barrage of abuse, but even so will conclude by expressing my complete bafflement at the popularity of this score. I do hope it isn't people being blinded by Herrmann's unquestionable genius on a handful of other scores. (It's worth noting that Varèse's production values are first-rate: Rick Victor's sound quality is marvelous, and Jon Burlingame's liner notes equally as impressive.)

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  1. Prelude (1:50)
  2. The Kralahome (2:24)
  3. The Street (:38)
  4. Siam (2:55)
  5. Wait (:27)
  6. The Almanac (:16)
  7. The King (1:41)
  8. The Harem (:22)
  9. The Children (:42)
  10. The Teacher (1:11)
  11. The Courtyard (1:37)
  12. Anger (:19)
  13. Fish Market (:59)
  14. The First Lesson (:53)
  15. Pandemonium (:29)
  16. Tuptim (2:35)
  17. Lost Cambodia (3:34)
  18. The Abduction (2:27)
  19. The Letters (:33)
  20. Lady Thiang (1:18)
  21. 2:00 AM (:58)
  22. 3:00 AM (1:01)
  23. Tuptim's Slave (:26)
  24. The Pomegranate (1:44)
  25. The Dresses (:25)
  26. The Hall of Women (:29)
  27. 4:00 AM (:22)
  28. The Golden Goblets (:20)
  29. The Ladies (:39)
  30. The Reception (1:19)
  31. The Banquet (1:44)
  32. The Gift (:51)
  33. Suspense (1:56)
  34. The Dungeon (1:57)
  35. The Second Dinner (:40)
  36. Cruelty (1:06)
  37. The Stake (:52)
  38. The Offering (:19)
  39. The Legend of the Panels (3:23)
  40. The Fall (:32)
  41. Sorrow (1:24)
  42. Consolation (1:26)
  43. Montage (1:16)
  44. The Last Call (:26)
  45. Elegy (4:58)
  46. Memories (1:38)
  47. The Coronation (2:32)
  48. Chant No 1 (1:17)
  49. Chant No 2 (1:41)
  50. Anger (four takes) (1:19)
  51. Home Sweet Home (:53)